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UK inks deals for coronavirus antivirals from MSD and Pfizer, urges vaccination as cases surge

The U.K. has secured contracts with MSD and Pfizer to supply enough pills to treat vulnerable people who get infected with COVID-19 this winter, and possibly most of next year, the government announced on Wednesday.

The Antivirals Taskforce has agreed to buy 480,000 treatment courses of MSD’s investigational COVID-19 pill molnupiravir, and 250,000 courses of Pfizer’s antiviral candidate, known a PF-07321332/ritonavir.

Molnupiravir has shown to halve the risk of hospitalization or death in people at risk of serious disease from coronavirus infection, when given to adults with mild to moderate COVID-19.

Pfizer’s therapy is combined with ritonavir, a licensed antiviral for HIV/AIDS, and is currently in Phase 2/3 trials.

Both treatments, designed to destroy the virus, require authorization by the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency before they can be offered by community doctors to COVID-19 patients most in need.

At the earliest, molnupiravir could be available in mid-November, while Pfizer’s pill is most likely to be available in late January or early February. Once they’re available, the U.K. will collect data on their efficacy.

“This is a very important development in our mission to find antivirals for those exposed to COVID-19,” said Taskforce Chair Eddie Gray.

To date, just one antiviral, remdesivir, has been authorized for use against COVID-19 but its efficacy is not so clear-cut. The new pills will be given in the community, as opposed to in hospitals.

Scientists have long been calling for further research and government backing into these potentially life-saving treatments, especially for those who cannot mount a strong immune response.



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