CM – U.K. is turning to COVID antiviral drugs to help weather the Omicron winter

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(Reuters) – The UK expects COVID-19 antiviral pills from Merck & Co Inc and Pfizer to be available over the winter, the Antiviral Taskforce chairman said Thursday as Omicron continues its lightning advance across the country .

Eddie Gray told reporters that he expected both Merck’s molnupiravir treatment and Pfizer’s paxlovid treatment to be available throughout the winter period, which he defined as the end of March. The UK has yet to approve Paxlovid.

« If there is a successful approval of Paxlovid, we would like to incorporate this into the PANORAMIC process, » said Gray, referring to a UK clinical study showing the real effectiveness of antiviral treatments against Omicron was studied in a heavily vaccinated population.

Last month, the UK became the first country to approve monulpiravir, which was jointly developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and for which Merck claims to have signed contracts for a total of more than 7 million courses.

PANORAMIC is currently underway testing Merck’s pill in COVID-19 patients who are at risk of serious illness to avoid overburdening hospitals. It has recruited more than 250 people out of a target of 10,000 subjects, Gray said. « Early treatment in the community could have the greatest reach and impact here, » chief investigator Professor Chris Butler told reporters. « Lightening the burden on hospitals and accelerating people’s recovery is the next phase in this research area. » However, recent data from separate studies showed the drug reduced hospital admissions and deaths in high-risk patients by only about 30%. reduced – compared to 89% for paxlovid from competitor Pfizer. The UK has bought 500,000 doses of monulpiravir.

When asked why PANORAMIC didn’t simply test the effectiveness of paxlovid, Professor Butler told reporters, « It’s not yet approved and not yet available – evidence for paxlovid is after monulpiravir occurred, hence the delay between the two. ”

The hope is that PANORAMIC will shed some light on which COVID-19 palliatives will reduce hospitalization rates, prevent severe cases, bypass immune resistance and prove to be inexpensive.

Whether such drugs could be used to protect people from disease after exposure to a positive case – known as post-exposure prophylaxis – is another possibility that scientists and regulators want to investigate.

« Antivirals are becoming an option how to deal with COVID-19 over the winter and in the long term, and questions such as how effective it will be it as post-exposure prophylaxis, ”said Professor Phil Evans of the National Institute of Health Research.

Treatment with monulpiravir is still under review by the European Medicines Agency, but the EU Medicines Agency made a recommendation in November for use in older adults before issuing a broader recommendation.

The EMA said Thursday that European Union countries can use paxlovid early after an infection is diagnosed, although full regulatory approval has not yet been finalized is.

Both paxlovid and monulpiravir work by interfering with the replication of the coronavirus, which according to NHSE (National Health Service England) Dr. David Lowe raises the hope that such a mechanism could prove effective against other mRNA viruses such as SARS and MERS.

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