'Game-changing' anti-viral pill treatment for Covid approved on 'historic day' for UK

4 November 2021, 11:36 | Updated: 4 November 2021, 11:38

Molnupiravir has been found to be safe and effective by UK regulators
Molnupiravir has been found to be safe and effective by UK regulators. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The first anti-viral pill for the treatment of Covid-19 has been approved for use in the UK.

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The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said Molnupiravir is safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospital admission and death in people with mild to moderate Covid who are at extra risk from the virus.

The drug is for people who have had a positive Covid test and have at least one risk factor for developing severe illness, such as obesity, being over the age of 60, diabetes or heart disease.

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It works by interfering with the virus's replication, preventing it from multiplying and therefore keeping virus levels low to reduce the severity of the disease,

The MHRA said the drug, from Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), should be taken as soon as possible following a positive Covid-19 test and within the first five days.

"Following a rigorous review of the data by our expert scientists and clinicians, we are satisfied that Lagevrio (molnupiravir) is safe and effective for those at risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease and have granted its approval," said Dr June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive.

She added that the approval was all the more pivotal because it is the first antiviral that can be taken by mouth instead of intravenously, meaning it can be administered outside of hospitals and therefore before Covid-19 has progressed to a severe stage.

"Today is a historic day for our country, as the UK is now the first country in the world to approve an antiviral that can be taken at home for COVID-19," said Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid.

"This will be a gamechanger for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the ground-breaking treatment."

Molnupiravir was one of two anti-viral drugs the Government secured deals for in mid-October.

The Department of Health and Social Care said 480,000 courses of it had been secured, as well as 250,000 courses of Pfizer's PF-07321332/ritonavir.

The latter is not yet approved by the MHRA, but if it is it could be available as a treatment by the middle of January 2022.

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Announcing the deals, Mr Javid said: "I am delighted to confirm we may soon have a new defence in our arsenal with two new antiviral drugs that we have secured.

"Our work is far from done though - and we’ll continue our tireless work to secure more innovative treatments so we can protect as many people as possible from the virus, its variants and future diseases."