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News Article

Pfizer, Merck Race to Develop COVID-19 Pill

By Antonio Gozain | Wed, 09/15/2021 - 13:00

When the pandemic hit, financing and investigation efforts focused mainly on developing vaccines. However, prevention does not seem to be enough and multinational pharmaceuticals Pfizer and Merck are running a second stage of trials of their novel oral antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19.

Pfizer reported a successful first stage of trials in March 2021 and is set to continue evaluating its two antiviral protease inhibitors, one administered orally and the other one intravenously. In this first stage, both demonstrated to respond with “potent antiviral activity” against severe disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, according to Pfizer.

“We believe that, if successful and authorized or approved, these investigational therapies could provide end-to-end treatment options for COVID-19 patients, including those exposed to the virus, those with diagnosed infections treated in the outpatient setting, and those hospitalized with moderate to severe infection,” says Pfizer’s webpage.

Both Pfizer’s and Merck’s drugs are designed to prevent the coronavirus from multiplying. While Pfizer’s blocks the activity of a key enzyme that helps the virus replicate, Merck’s pill introduces errors into the RNA of coronavirus.

Pfizer’s second trial enrolled 1,140 adults diagnosed with COVID-19 infection who are not at risk of severe disease. “Patients in the trial will be given Pfizer's pill, known as PF-07321332, and a low dose of ritonavir, an older medication widely used in combination treatments for HIV infection,” reported Forbes. Merck’s trial is set to analyze molnupiravir use for the prevention of COVID-19 with healthy adults sharing the same space as someone diagnosed with symptomatic COVID-19 infection.

While it is too early to know when these medicines could become available for massive use, both drugmakers are confident that they will obtain an emergency use approval by year-end.  "I would just say that our program is enrolling well, and we expect to be able to see clinical data in the back half of the year," Merck's CEO Robert Davis said at Morgan Stanley's Annual Global Healthcare Conference, reported Reuters.

Pfizer/BioNTech, the Most Popular Vaccine in the West

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine became the first to obtain full approval by the FDA in August and it is also the most used across western countries. From 35 countries that have public information on vaccination, 66.5 percent of the vaccines applied have been produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, for a total of 1,727 million jabs, followed by Moderna with 217 million jabs (20 percent), according to the University of Oxford.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is also one of the most used in Mexico and the first of the 9 jabs authorized for emergency use by COFEPRIS, along with Sinopharm, AstraZeneca, CanSino Biologics, Sputnik V, Sinovac, Covaxin, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
MBN, Pfizer, Reuters,
Antonio Gozain Antonio Gozain Journalist and Industry Analyst