Two new weapons in America’s fight against COVID-19 could be added to the arsenal later this week.
Bloomberg reports that authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for two different pills designed to treat Covid could come this week.
Molnupiravir, developed by Merck & Co., was widely lauded months ago as a potential ‘game changer’ in the fight against Covid, but ran into a few speedbumps before earning a narrow 13-10 recommendation from an advisory committee.
Some fear the way the drug functions could increase a person’s risk of cancer by incidentally replicating a person’s DNA.
Paxlovid, developed by Pfizer, is believed to be more effective against the Omicron variant than its peer and could become the gold standard for antiviral Covid pills.
The approval of these pills could be a boon to the way Covid is treated. They are both highly effective – though there are some doubts about molnupiravir’s ability to combat Omicron – and unlike other effective treatments like monoclonal antibodies, they do not require intensive resources to administer, since they are just pills.
Molnupiravir, developed by Merck, was the first oral medication to be developed to fight Covid. It is believed to be able to decreased hospitalizations and deaths caused by the virus by 30%. Some fear it comes with a risk of cancer, though, and could lead to the formation of more variants
Paxlovid, developed by Pfizer, is believed to be the gold standard in antiviral Covid pills. It is believed to be effective against the Omicron variant, and does not carry the same risks that molnupiravir does. The company may not be able to produce enough doses of the medication to have a major impact fighting Covid, though
After initial clinical trials, molnupiravir was expected to become the new gold standard treatment for Covid.
The antiviral pill initially showed that it could reduce hospitalizations and deaths caused by the virus by 50 percent.
Later tests found the effectiveness dropped to around 30 percent, though it was still a cheap and easy to administer option to treat the virus.
Some concerns about the way molnupiravir works have been raised, though.
The drug works by increasing the virus’s rate of mutation so quickly in a person’s body that it fails to replicate anymore, using a process called lethal mutagenesis.
It does so by entering the virus’s RNA, but some experts fear that the mechanist could also incidentally mutate a person’s DNA, which could lead to cancer or even cause a child from that person to have defects.
There are also fears that the drug could also ‘super-charge’ the formation of new variants due to its functions.
Despite these worries, members of the FDA’s Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee voted 13-10 to recommend the drug for approval, believing the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks.
Paxlovid does not come with many of the same issues the molnupiravir does.
Pfizer’s antiviral pill inhibits the virus’s ability to replicate once it is in the body, and it was found to have none of the potential safety risks that its peer has. It is also believed to be effective against the Omicron variant.
It lacks in one place, though, availability.
The Guardian reports that there are only around 200,000 courses of the drug currently made, and the company can only get that total up to 80 million by the end of 2022.
With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly worldwide, Paxlovid could be a god-send in the fight against Covid, especially in lower income countries that may not have the vaccine coverage needed to protect its citizens – let alone boosters.
Pfizer may not be able to ramp up production to meet the demand, though.
Merck, on the other hand, makes up the gap its peer is leaving.
The company is partnering with generic manufacturers around the world to mass-produce and distribute the drug.
In July, the company announced it would partner with generic manufacturers based in India to help make the drug widely available in the Covid struck nation.
The company also announced a partnership with the Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed public health organization, this week to help distribute the drug across over 100 other nations.
As part of the deal, generic manufacturers, approved by the Medicines Patent Pool, will be able to mass produce the drug in countries of choice.