When it comes to the fight against COVID-19, there’s a new drug that is showing promising results in fighting the illness. It’s an antiviral pill recently announced by pharmaceutical company Merck.
“One way to think of it is as a Tamiflu equivalent for COVID-19,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said.
Where a vaccine is meant to build immunity and prevent infection, this pill is meant to keep a person from going to the hospital once they contract COVID-19. Last week, Merck said the pill reduces hospitalizations and death by half in those with COVID-19 infections.
“What it does is it makes it a much more manageable respiratory infection, much like many of the respiratory infections we deal with year in and year out,” Dr. Adalja said.
Doctor James Neid, who specializes in infectious disease, said the pill is a game-changer.
“I think it’s always interesting to look at this in terms of what's going to save us next,” Dr. James Neid, the director of infection prevention at the Medical Center of Aurora, said.
“The hope for this new pill is that it may be more accessible than antibody infusion that requires a lot of steps, a lot of paperwork,” he said. “It’s another tool that we have, but it in no way, shape or form replaces vaccination.”
Dr. Neid said one of the challenges with the Merck pill is the timing. It’s most effective when you first get sick, but not everybody goes in for treatment right away.
“That’s why these therapeutics don't end outbreaks or pandemics or epidemics. It’s because it's just not logistically feasible to start the drug on time in every case. It’s impossible to predict exactly when the infection started but the downside for the COVID therapeutics is it tends to start in a more silent manner,” he said.
“This will be a prescription drug. It’s going to be something that still has to make its way through the FDA process for emergency use authorization,” Dr. Adalja said. He said the FDA could authorize the pill before the end of this year. The agency has followed clinical trials closely, but Merck's pill is just one of several treatments currently in development.
“This is the first of probably a couple different antivirals that are going to be developed over time,” he said.