Nov 5, 2021 - Health

Pfizer says COVID pill cuts risk of death or hospitalization by 89%

A person's had clutching Pfizer's oral antiviral pills

Photo: Soumyabrata Roy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pfizer's oral antiviral drug was found to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by 89%, according to interim results from a mid-to-late-stage study announced by the company on Friday.

Why it matters: Antiviral drugs can be a key pandemic-fighting tool, as not everyone will get vaccinated against the virus and it may take years to fully inoculate people in certain countries — particularly given current gaps in global vaccine supplies.

  • Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement that these findings from the phase 2/3 study marked "a real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic."

Details: Pfizer's antiviral pill, PAXLOVID (PF-07321332), was developed specifically to treat COVID-19, by blocking activity of the main enzyme the virus needs to multiply.

  • This was co-administered with a low dose of ritonavir, which is widely used in combination treatments for HIV infection.

Of note: No deaths were reported in patients with COVID-19 who received PAXLOVID for the study, according to a Pfizer statement.

  • 10 people who received a placebo died of the virus.

Be smart: Paxlovid’s results are very encouraging to a lot of researchers because, like Merck's COVID-19 pill, an easy-to-take oral drug that reduces severe illness and hospitalization will offer a way out of the pandemic, says Axios’ health care business reporter Bob Herman. 

Yes, but: There are some caveats. Pfizer’s findings came through a corporate press release, not a peer-reviewed journal, and federal regulators haven’t had a chance to scrutinize the drug’s clinical trial data yet.

The big picture: Remdesivir, a drug investigated earlier to treat Ebola and other diseases, is currently the only antiviral approved for COVID-19 treatment in the U.S.

  • PAXLOVID is one of several antiviral pills being developed to treat people after they've been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
  • The U.K. on Thursday became the first country in the world to approve an antiviral pill designed specifically in response to COVID-19: British regulators approved molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to prevent or treat the virus.

What's next: Pfizer said it will submit the findings as part of its ongoing rolling submission to the FDA for emergency use authorization "as soon as possible."

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