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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."

Go deeper

NY declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron COVID variant

Gov. Kathy Hochul at an event on Nov. 3. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 cases and the newly identified Omicron variant of the virus.

Driving the news: The declaration enables the state to acquire supplies to fight a potential surge in cases, increase hospital capacity and combat potential staff shortages, NBC's local affiliate reports.

30 mins ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."

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