Scientists Are Developing A Pill That Could Lessen COVID Symptoms

Pfizer, Merck, & Shionogi are trialling a “game-changing” pill that could be used to treat people in the early stages of infection.

Originally Published: 
Woman taking a pill with a glass of water.

As it currently stands, more than 80 million people across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, with 37 million people in the UK now recorded to be fully vaccinated. The vaccines have been lauded as the best defence against the virus, but as the fight to end the pandemic continues, international scientists are said to be also working on a COVID-19 pill. Pfizer is among the list of global companies working on pills that could be made available “as early as this year,” but what is the COVID-19 pill and is it available in the UK?

What Is The COVID-19 Pill?

Drugmakers are aiming to create a pill “that those who get a positive COVID-19 test could take at home while their symptoms are mild,” reveals a report by the Wall Street Journal. It’s hoped the oral pills could help prevent the worsening of COVID-19 symptoms and “neutralise the virus” within a few days, reports WSJ.

Alongside Pfizer, Japanese-based company Shionogi is trialling oral antiviral drugs of this kind, as is Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP in partnership with Merck.

How Will The COVID-19 Pill Differ From Vaccines?

Back in March, Pfizer (an American drugs company that created one of the three available vaccines available in the UK) revealed it was trialing a tablet people could take “twice a day.” It’s been given the snappy title of PF-07321332 and, unlike the vaccines, which are preventative, the pill would help treat a person infected with the virus.

Interestingly, Pfizer’s “game-changing” pill is classed as a “protease inhibitor,” which are used to treat other viral pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

“Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic requires both preventions via vaccine and targeted treatment for those who contract the virus,” said Pfizer in a statement back in March 2021. “We have designed PF-07321332 as a potential oral therapy that could be prescribed at the first sign of infection, without requiring that patients are hospitalized or in critical care. At the same time, Pfizer’s intravenous antiviral candidate is a potential novel treatment option for hospitalized patients.”

Will The COVID-19 Pill Be Available In The UK?

According to CNBC, while Pfizer’s experimental drug could be “ready to hit the market as soon as this year” it is still in the midst of clinical trials — so, as to be expected, it’s not yet been confirmed if and when they’d be approved for use in the UK.

Meanwhile, American chemicals company Merck has struck a deal in the U.S. to provide 1.7 million cases of oral antiviral drug Molnupiravir upon approval by the FDA, while Japanese company Shionogi has started trialling a “convenient” once-a-day pill this month. Although it is in its early stages, per Wall Street Journal, Shionogi hopes that if the drug shows promise it could be distributed internationally.

Editorial note: This article was updated on August 3, 2021, to include mention of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP’s involvement in trialling an oral antiviral COVID drug.

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