January 17, 2022

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

John Bader
4th November 2021

Taking a look back at November last year, with no end to the pandemic in sight, one wouldn’t even imagine reading such a title. Yet, here we are and it’s a reality: a COVID-19 treatment has been approved!

The UK medicines regulator approves the use of the first pill formulated to treat symptomatic COVID-19. This makes the UK the first country in the world to take such a step in its fight against the pandemic. 

Molnupiravir, the approved pill, is the first COVID-19 treatment that will be administered to patients in the form of tablets to be taken at home. Earlier treatments were only administered at hospitals in the form of injections or intravenously. This makes the pill a “gamechanger”, as described by Health Secretary Sajid Javid in a statement earlier today. 

“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.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid

A shipment of 480,000 courses is expected to be delivered to the UK later this month. As a first step, the pills will be given to both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients as part of a national study on the effectiveness of the treatment. According to clinical trials results, the pill is said to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by around 50%. Out of the 775 patients participating in the trial, only 7.3% were hospitalized, as compared to 14.1% of those given a placebo. Further results show that the treatment is most effective when taken within 5 days of developing COVID-19 symptoms on a twice a day course.

How does it work?

Molnupiravir is an RNA based-therapy that targets the enzyme used by the virus to replicate itself. This interference with the genetic code of the virus inhibits its further replication and thus the virus levels in the body remain low. This prevents the development of severe symptoms and reduces the risk of hospitalization. 

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For more on the drug, make sure to check out the latest news release by Merck, one of the developers of the treatment, here.

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John Bader is the News Editor for I,Science and is studying an MSc in Science Media Production at Imperial College London