The drug companies Merck and Pfizer have each come up with new medicines that can help protect people from the worst effects of the coronavirus. These medicines won’t replace vaccines, but could help treat people who get Covid-19.
Since the new coronavirus first appeared, scientists and doctors around the world have been looking for medicines to treat it. Scientists have tested many existing drugs to see if they might be useful. Some treatments have been found, but they cost a lot of money and need to be given with a needle.
Other efforts have focused on creating new drugs. Now two drug companies have come up with pills that can greatly reduce the most serious effects of the coronavirus if they’re given within a few days after a person gets sick.
The pills are an important advance. They can be transported easily and can be used in places without fancy medical equipment. The new medicines also don’t need the special cold conditions that vaccines usually require.
Merck came out with its drug, called molnupiravir, first. Molnupiravir was developed by scientists at Emory University with money from the United States’ government. Tests show that Merck’s pill can reduce the serious effects of Covid-19 in about 50% of cases.
Recently, Pfizer ended a study of its own antiviral pill early because it worked so well. The pill is called Paxlovid, and it reduced the serious effects of Covid-19 in about 89% of cases. The Pfizer pill must be taken along with another antiviral called ritonavir.
Normally it takes years to develop a new medicine and get it approved. Both of these pills were already being developed before the coronavirus pandemic began. Because there’s a serious need for medicines against Covid-19, the companies are asking governments for special emergency approval.
The United Kingdom (UK) has already given emergency approval to molnupiravir. The US is expected to consider both drugs soon. Emergency approvals could come as soon as December.
The UK, the US, and Australia have already bought large supplies of molnupiravir. Both companies say they’ll charge different prices for the drugs, depending on the country.
Merck’s prices for molnupiravir have already upset many people. Even though the US paid for the research behind molnupiravir, Merck is charging the US government 46 times as much for the pills as it is charging some other countries. In the US, the price for molnupiravir is $700, but the same medicine is expected to cost about $15 when it comes out in India.
Experts say it’s important to understand that the new pills won’t replace vaccines, which are still the best protection against Covid-19. The pills need to be taken soon after someone gets the virus, otherwise, they won’t help much. But the new drugs are safe and work well, and should help protect huge numbers of people from the worst effects of the disease.