Government agrees deals for two new Covid antiviral drugs to protect most vulnerable this winter

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The antivirals are pending approval by the UK’s medicines regulator and are expected to be given to those most vulnerable to Covid-19

The UK government has secured deals for two new Covid-19 treatments which will help to protect those most at-risk this winter.

The antivirals, which are used to treat people infected with the virus, or to protect exposed individuals from becoming infected, should be ready to be used over the coming months, pending approval by the UK medicines regulator.

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What are the new treatments?

The treatments come from pharmaceutical companies Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD), and Pfizer, and are aimed at protecting those most vulnerable to Covid-19, such as the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed that 480,000 courses of Molnupiravir, made by MSD, have been secured, along with 250,000 courses of Pfizer’s PF-07321332/ritonavir.

Ritonavir is a medication that is widely used in combination treatments for HIV infection.

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In clinical trials, Molunpiravir has been shown to cut the risk of hospital admission or death by 50% among at-risk adults with mild to moderate Covid-19.

Pfizer’s antiviral treatment is just starting its phase three trials,

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the treatments, both of which are taken orally, “have the potential to speed up recovery time and to stop infections from progressing”.

So far, data on the effectiveness of the drugs has been focused on their use as a treatment for people who already have Covid-19, but studies on using them as a preventative measure are now underway.

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Ben Osborn, country manager at Pfizer UK, said: “If successful, oral antiviral therapies, such as protease inhibitors, may help to reduce the severity or onset of illness in adults who contract, or have been exposed to, Covid-19.

“An oral treatment option may therefore be an important tool to help address the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

When will the treatments be available?

Both treatments are currently pending approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

It is expected that once this is granted, Molnupiravir could be available by mid-November, while Pfizer’s could be rolled out in mid-January 2022.

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The drugs will likely be given to those most at risk from Covid-19 in a bid to reduce the severity of symptoms and help to ease pressure on the NHS over the winter.

The government and the NHS are currently working on plans for the deployment of the treatments, including a national study to understand the potential benefits of the antivirals for vaccinated patients.

While it is not clear how the treatments will be rolled out, it is understood that they could be made available from pharmacies.

Eddie Gray, chairman of the government’s Antivirals Taskforce, hailed the deals as a “very important development” in the battle to treat people who have been exposed to Covid-19, while England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said antivirals “bring another key intervention to the table”.

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He said: “They will be particularly vital in protecting those who may not get the same antibody response to the vaccines as the majority of the population.

“We will now work quickly to ensure the right cohorts of people receive these treatments as soon as possible, should they be approved by the MHRA.”

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