UK government strikes deals for two COVID-19 antivirals

Thousands of vulnerable patients could be taking ground-breaking COVID-19 antivirals this winter after the UK government announced deals to secure 2 new treatments.

The deals made by the Antivirals Taskforce are a significant step in its ambition to secure at least 2 new effective treatments by the end of the year for those who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with the virus.

Should the treatments be approved by the UK’s medicines regulator – the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – thousands of NHS patients will be able to access the treatments to prevent the infection from spreading and speed up recovery time.

The 2 new antivirals are expected to be given to those most at risk from the virus, helping reduce the severity of symptoms and ease pressure on the NHS over winter.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have been building an armoury of life-saving measures to tackle the virus and protect the country – including our phenomenal vaccination programme and therapeutics.

“I am delighted to confirm we may soon have a new defence in our arsenal with 2 new antiviral drugs that we have secured.

“Our work is far from done though – and we’ll continue our tireless work to secure more innovative treatments so we can protect as many people as possible from the virus, its variants and future diseases.”

The 2 antivirals are:

  • Molnupiravir, from company Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD), of which the government has secured 480,000 courses – it has proven in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for at-risk non-hospitalised adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 by 50%
  • PF-07321332/ritonavir, from company Pfizer, of which the government has secured 250,000 courses – 3 phase 2 and 3 trials are currently underway

The government and NHS are now working at pace on plans for deployment of the treatments, including the delivery of a national study.

This will allow medical experts to gather further data on the potential benefits these treatments bring to vaccinated patients. Further details on the study will be set out in due course.

Before the antivirals can be authorised, they would first need to be evaluated by the MHRA, to ensure they meet the regulator’s high standards of quality, safety and effectiveness.

Antivirals are treatments used to either treat those who are infected with a virus or protect exposed individuals from becoming infected. They target the virus at an early stage, preventing progression to more severe, or even critical, symptoms.

The Antivirals Taskforce will continue to look at a number of further options, spanning a range of different antiviral mechanisms. Alongside the work of the Therapeutics Taskforce, this will ensure as many people as possible can be protected from COVID-19, future variants and other future diseases.

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