A person walks past the Pfizer building in New York City on March 25, 2021.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters
Pfizer said Friday that its easy-to-administer Covid-19 pill, used in combination with a widely used HIV drug, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death in high-risk adults exposed to the virus by 89 % lowers.
It is now the second antiviral pill after Merck’s that shows strong efficacy in treating Covid at the first sign of illness. If approved by regulators, it would likely mark a turning point in the ongoing global battle against the pandemic. Pfizer plans to submit its data to the Food and Drug Administration “as soon as possible”.
Pfizer’s pill, scientifically known as PF-07321332, belongs to a class of drugs called protease inhibitors and works by blocking an enzyme that the virus needs to multiply in human cells. Protease inhibitors are used to treat other viral pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis C.
The HIV drug helps slow the metabolism or breakdown of the Pfizer pill so it stays active in the body for longer periods of time at higher concentrations, the company said.
The company said its data on the drug is based on a mid-to late-stage study of 1,219 adults who had at least one underlying disease and one laboratory-confirmed infection within five days. Participants also received a low dose of ritonavir, a drug often used in combination treatments for HIV.
Pfizer said there were six hospitalizations and zero deaths of the 607 study participants who received the pill in combination with the HIV drug within five days of the onset of symptoms. That compares to 41 hospitalizations and 10 deaths for the 612 people who received a placebo.
“These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved by regulators, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections and achieve up to nine out of ten hospital stays Avoid, “said Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer in a statement.
Unlike Gilead Sciences’ intravenous drug Remdesivir, Pfizer and Merck drugs can be taken orally. While vaccinations remain the best form of protection against the virus, health experts hope pills like these will prevent the progression of the disease in those who become infected and prevent hospitalizations.
Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics announced on October 1 that they had developed a drug that, when administered alone, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death in patients with mild or moderate cases of Covid by about 50%.
The antiviral pill made by Merck was approved by the UK Medicines Agency on Thursday.
June Raine, chief executive of the UK’s drug and health products regulator, said Merck’s pill will make the treatment of Covid a lot easier, a disease that has killed more than 5 million people around the world and has put a huge strain on healthcare systems.
Bourla told CNBC in April that Pfizer’s pill could be available to Americans by the end of this year.