A new way to fight the Covid-19 pandemic is on the horizon. Current treatments are expensive and require patients to be admitted to hospital. But a drug developed by Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics is on the cusp of changing this. Here is what you need to know about the Covid-19 pill, Molnupiravir.

What is Molnupiravir?

It’s an oral antiviral medicine that people can take at home which treats mild to moderate cases of Covid-19. Antivirals are medications that help your body fight off certain viruses that can cause disease. Antiviral drugs can also protect you from getting viral infections or spreading them.

Why is it the current buzzword in the treatment of Covid-19?

It cuts the risk of hospitalisation or death by 50 percent in adult patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19. Of 385 patients who received the drug, only 28 patients were hospitalised compared to 53 out of 377 who got the placebo. On day 29 of the trial, no deaths were reported in the group taking the antiviral, while eight were reported in the placebo group. The company says it is effective in the common SARS-CoV-2 variants, including the delta variant.

How does Molnupiravir work?

It inhibits the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Inside the host cell, molnupiravir is converted to molnupiravir triphosphate. When the virus tries to replicate, molnupiravir triphosphate is incorporated into the viral ribonucleic acid or RNA  and causes a mutation. The mutation stops the virus from replicating and attacking other healthy cells.

How is it administered?

No nurses, doctors, hospital admissions, or IVs are required! People who have Covid-19 simply take the drug orally twice a day for five days starting within five days of the onset of the symptoms.

Does molnupiravir have any side effects?

There were no serious side effects reported during the trial. Only 1.3% of participants quit the therapy because of an adverse event compared with 3.4% of participants in the placebo group. The drug was tested on non-hospitalised adult patients with lab-confirmed, mild-to-moderate Covid-19 and at least one risk factor associated with poor disease outcomes, like obesity. Merck says data shows molnupiravir is not capable of inducing genetic changes in human cells, but men enrolled in its trials had to abstain from heterosexual intercourse or agree to use contraception. Women of child-bearing age in the study could not be pregnant and also had to use birth control.

Who is molnupiravir targeted towards?

It will be prescribed to patients who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 no more than five days earlier and who have at least one underlying health condition, like obesity. During the clinical trial, molnupiravir was mostly given to people who were over 60 or those who were younger but had other comorbidities that made them high risk. 

How much will it cost? 

It’s priced at $700 in the USA, but Merck said it is setting up tiered pricing for other countries. And, its licensing deals with eight Indian drug manufacturers will allow cheaper generic versions for 109 low- and middle-income countries including in Africa.

When will the pill be available? 

Merck applied to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorisation (EUA) of the pill. The FDA’s Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee (AMDAC) will meet on November 30 to discuss the safety and efficacy of the drug based on the available data. It’s expected the pill will be available for use by December 2021. Health-e News