Infectious disease expert “cautiously optimistic” about COVID-19 pill

Merck covid-19 pill
Merck covid-19 pill(WBAY)
Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 4:25 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 6, 2021 at 6:12 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The convenience of a pill and the promising data to go along with it, is leaving one doctor “cautiously optimistic” about the continued fight against COVID-19.

New Jersey-based drug company Merck said its experimental pill could help treat people with COVID after diagnosis and the start of symptoms. Merck is working on the antiviral in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

“I think it sounds exciting. You know, if it’s effective and safe, it fills a need,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, the medical director for infection prevention at UW-Health. “Right now there’s very little that’s available for people who have mild symptoms. If you want to get the monoclonal antibody, for instance, that’s an intravenous or subcutaneous drug; you have to go somewhere to get it.”

Dr. Safdar said the pill would make it accessible and convenient for people.

“It’s good that this is a different and novel pathway that might be available to people who are otherwise not feeling sick enough to go to the hospital but yet still need treatment to feel better,” said Dr. Safdar.

The drug is called Molnupiravir and it’s considered an anti-viral. “It means that in some way it interferes with the ability of the virus to replicate or introduces errors into the virus so that it cannot replicate,” Dr. Safdar explained.

According to Merck, the anti-viral pill would be taken orally after diagnosis. The data released so far said it helps reduce death and hospitalizations by 50 percent if given early enough.

“In addition, there’s another part of that study that is really impressive. Among the deaths in the study, there were eight deaths among the placebo group and no deaths among those who took the medication,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The data is so promising that an independent group of medical experts monitoring the trial wanted to stop it early.

“Some reasons for stopping it early would be if the results were so compelling that you felt that the benefit far outweighed any risk,” said Dr. Safdar.

However, the rest of the data remain to be seen as Merck plans to submit all its data to the FDA soon.

“It would be very meaningful, I think, in addition to our options for treating it once the data has been reviewed it turns out to be what it looks like,” said Dr. Safdar.

Dr. Safdar said we must keep in mind that it’s a treatment, not a preventive measure like the vaccine. She doesn’t believe this promising news will impact vaccination rates.

“I shouldn’t think so. I think people that are anti-vaccine will probably remain that way regardless of what comes or doesn’t come down the road,” said Dr. Safdar. “I view this as, you know, there’s various ways that you can intervene in the COVID spectrum. So the most important one is vaccination but nothing is 100% and so some people, as we are seeing, will still get COVID and for those people, we need therapeutic options.”

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