DORAL, FL – The Department of Health and Human Services announced on Thursday that a pill to treat COVID-19 patients could possibly be released by the end of this year thanks to a new $3 billion program of the U.S. government.
According to the department, the money invested in this program serves the purpose of speeding up the clinical trials of some of the drug candidates.
The drug that gets approval would block the coronavirus in the first few days of the disease before it can make further damage and send patients to the hospital.
Up until now, only one antiviral drug has proven to be effective (when given intravenously) against the coronavirus and that is remdesivir, which was fully approved by the FDA in October. Nevertheless, the World Health Organization recommended against using this drug last November because its approved formulation didn’t work orally.
But according to the New York Times, researchers in different parts of the world are testing other antivirals already known to work in pill form.
One of them is molnupiravir. This drug was developed in 2019 by researchers at Emory University, has been tested against other viruses such as influenza and dengue and was experimented in mice in partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics of Miami resulting in Merck getting interested in doing human clinical trials for COVID-19.
However, according to the media report, in a trial of hospitalized patients, molnupiravir seemed to have no effect on the disease and the trial was canceled only to begin another one last fall that has been tested on people recently diagnosed with the disease. The results of that last one will be known by October.
More recently, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would buy from Merck 1.7 million doses of molnupiravir at a cost of $1.2 billion just as long as the trial on course gets approval from the FDA.
And this is not the only drug in line to become the pill to treat COVID-19 as the government could also make similar similar deals for two other antivirals that are more advanced in their clinical trials, according to Dr. David Kessler, the chief science officer of the Biden administration’s Covid-19 response team.
The hope “is that we can get an antiviral by the end of the fall that can help us close out this chapter of the epidemic,” Dr. Kessler said in an interview.