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Wonder drug Paxlovid was developed by American giant Pfizer.
Its announcement yesterday came just 24 hours after the UK medicines regulator approved a similar treatment – molnupiravir – also from the US.
Paxlovid is intended for use soon after Covid symptoms develop in people at high risk of severe disease.
Mr Javid yesterday welcomed the development of the drug, adding: “If approved, this could be another significant weapon in our armoury to fight the virus alongside our vaccines and other treatments, including molnupiravir, which the UK was the first country in the world to approve this week.”
Pfizer said it stopped trials early after initial results were so positive.
Mr Javid said the UK has already ordered 250,000 courses of the treatment along with another 480,000 courses of molnupiravir from Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD).
In clinical trials, molnupiravir – originally developed to treat flu – cut the risk of hospitalisation or death by about half.
The Pfizer drug, known as a “protease inhibitor”, is designed to block an enzyme the virus needs in order to multiply.
It is taken alongside a low dose of another antiviral pill called ritonavir, with three pills taken twice a day for five days.
The combination treatment works slightly differently to the MSD pill, which introduces errors into the genetic code of the virus.
Pfizer said it plans to submit interim trial results for its drug to US medicines regulator the FDA as part of the emergency use application it started last month.
Albert Bourla, the company’s chief executive, said the pill had “the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of Covid-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of 10 hospitalisations”.
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Patients in the trial, which has not yet been published or verified, were elderly or had an underlying health condition that put them at higher risk of serious illness from Covid.
They all had mild to moderate symptoms of the disease.
None in the group taking the pill died, whereas 10 died in a group taking a placebo.
Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said: “The success of these antivirals potentially marks a new era in our ability to prevent the severe consequences of Sars-CoV2 [coronavirus] infection, and is also a vital element for the care of clinically vulnerable people who may be unable to either receive or respond to vaccines.”
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