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Molnupiravir: Everything you need to know about the anti-COVID pill

Molnupiravir: Everything you need to know about the anti-COVID pill

  • Merck’s antiviral pill which showed promising results in clinical trials may be available locally starting November. But what is it really?
orange molnupiravir anti-covid pills by merck

What is molnupiravir and how does it stop COVID?

The anti-COVID pill by American multinational pharmaceutical company Merck is designed to stop the coronavirus from replicating by inserting errors into its genetic code. It was originally created to cure influenza, which shares the same symptoms as COVID-19.

How effective is it against COVID?

Molnupiravir is now in the third phase of its clinical trial, which is being stopped early at the recommendation of outside monitors due to compelling results. In a global trial involving 775 patients, Merck found that 7.3 percent of those given molnupiravir were hospitalized and none had died by 29 days after treatment. That’s compared to 14.1 percent of placebo patients who were hospitalized. Eight deaths were recorded among placebo patients.

Locally, the Department of Health (DOH) said it is conducting its own trials at the Lung Center of the Philippines and Quirino Memorial Medical Center and is now at phase 3.

How effective is it against COVID variants?

“Additionally, based on the participants with available viral sequencing data (approximately 40 percent of participants), molnupiravir demonstrated consistent efficacy across viral variants Gamma, Delta, and Mu,” said Merck.

When will it be available locally?

According to Faberco Life Sciences Inc., the official distributor of molnupiravir in the country, the 200mg pill may arrive as early as next month. Faberco is partnering with RiteMed Philippines, Inc. to distribute the oral drug to hospitals, medical institutions, and treatment sites.

Who can take molnupiravir?

The pill is meant to reduce hospitalization and death among people who have tested positive for COVID-19. During the phase 3 clinical trial, only those with risk factors, like unvaccinated old people or those with comorbidities like diabetes or heart disease, were enrolled. The drug might initially be available only for those people. 

A patient may start taking the pill as soon as they exhibit symptoms of COVID. This is because it is a time when the immune system is more vulnerable to attacks by rapidly increasing viruses.

In the U.S., experts are saying it will be available over the counter with a prescription from the doctor. 

In the Philippines, the Food and Drug Administration said that the oral antiviral drug can be used by doctors in hospitals and healthcare facilities once compassionate special permits (CSP) are filed and approved.

How often should it be taken?

Based on clinical trials, a patient is recommended to take four capsules twice a day for five days for a total of 40 pills over the course of treatment. 

Are there any side effects to taking molnupiravir?

Based on Merck’s data, there have not been serious side effects experienced by participants in the trial. However, mild complaints like headaches can be hard to distinguish from feeling ill from COVID, the researchers said.

Merck clarified that molnupiravir does not induce genetic changes to humans cells but noted that males enrolled in its trials had to abstain from heterosexual intercourse or agree to use contraception. Likewise, women of child-bearing age in the study could not be pregnant and also had to use birth control.

Is molnupiravir more effective than vaccines?

No. Health officials in the U.S., where Merck recently applied for emergency authorization, said getting vaccinated against COVID is still the best way to prevent infections. 

Is Merck the only company making an antiviral pill against COVID?

No. Other pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer are expected to release results from their own clinical trials in the coming months. © 2020. Hinge Inquirer Publications, Inc.


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