New Pill Could Cut COVID-19 Deaths
Could a new take-at-home pill nearly put an end to COVID-19 deaths?
The final analysis of a clinical study by American pharmaceutical company Pfizer showed that its new antiviral therapeutic drug, Paxlovid, prevented almost 90% of COVID-19 deaths when taken within five days of the start of symptoms.
Although the studies have not yet been peer reviewed, Andrew Pekosz, vice chair of microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, hailed the results.
“The protection from hospitalization is obviously fantastic,” he said to medical news website Stat in mid-December. “That number [89%] was a great number. The fact that it was conserved in that final analysis really points to this being a really important weapon in our arsenal to fight COVID-19, particularly as we see more variants.”
The latest variant of concern, omicron, has caused a worldwide spike in cases of COVID-19. In Africa, the total number of recorded cases since the pandemic began was approaching 10 million on January 1, 2022.
Paxlovid fared well against omicron in lab studies. In its clinical trial, the drug was administered as a 30-pill regimen, with participants taking three pills every 12 hours for five days.
The United States authorized the use of Paxlovid for high-risk patients on December 22, 2021. The United Kingdom followed suit on December 31.
Another drug, molnupiravir, from U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck, proved less effective than Paxlovid in clinical trials, but it still could help prevent as much as 30% of hospitalizations and deaths.
These new drugs promise to play an important role in treating the virus at home and limiting the impact on overwhelmed health care systems.
Pills are easy to store and transport worldwide. Other treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies, have proved to be less effective at fighting omicron, are in limited supply and must be administered intravenously at a hospital or clinic.
South Africa has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the continent, and its Department of Health Deputy Director-General Nicholas Crisp said Paxlovid and molnupiravir are under consideration.
“We have done a numbers estimate with our colleagues in the provinces of the volumes we think we will be able to use of those two medications,” he told lawmakers in December 2021.
Paxlovid supplies are expected to be a major concern, despite Pfizer’s predicted production of 80 million courses in 2021.
The drug manufacturer signed a voluntary license agreement with the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) on November 16, 2021, to facilitate additional production and distribution.
Pending regulatory approval, the MPP would grant sublicenses to qualified generic drugmakers in 95 low- and middle-income countries, accounting for roughly 53% of the world’s population.
“Pfizer will not receive royalties on sales in low-income countries and will further waive royalties on sales in all countries covered by the agreement while COVID-19 remains classified as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization,” Pfizer said in a statement.
The head of South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare recently said his company will pursue licenses to manufacture Paxlovid and molnupiravir.
“No one can really tell you when their product will be available until they have a drug approved,” Senior Executive Stavros Nicolaou told South African medical website Spotlight. “We are aware of the market need for these products, particularly on the African continent, and so we will try to respond as swiftly as possible.”