US authorises first at-home Covid-19 pill treatment

Data shows the regimen is 90% effective in stopping hospital admission and deaths among people at high risk

Paxlovid, Pfizer's Covid-19 pill, seen here being manufactured in Ascoli, Italy. Pfizer via Reuters
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Pfizer said on Wednesday that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised its antiviral Covid-19 pill, making it the first at-home treatment for the coronavirus that is expected to become an important tool in the fight against the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Data from Pfizer's clinical trial showed its antiviral regimen was 90 per cent effective in preventing hospital admission and death in patients at high risk of severe illness. Recent lab data suggests the drug retains its effectiveness against Omicron.

The agency said it authorised the oral drug for emergency use for the treatment of mild-to-moderate disease in adults and paediatric patients 12 years of age and older, weighing at least 40 kilograms, who are at high risk for progression to severe Covid-19.

“This authorisation provides a new tool to combat Covid-19 at a crucial time in the pandemic as new variants emerge and promises to make antiviral treatment more accessible to patients,” said Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Centre for Drug Evaluation and Research.

The drug is available by prescription only and should be initiated as soon as possible after diagnosis of Covid-19 and within five days of symptom onset, the agency said.

The company said it was ready to start immediate delivery in the US and raised its production projections to 120 million courses of treatment from 80 million in 2022.

The US government's contract for 10 million courses of the Pfizer drug is priced at $530 per course.

The Pfizer pills, taken with the older antiviral drug ritonavir, will be sold under the brand name Paxlovid.

The pills are meant to be taken every 12 hours for five days beginning shortly after the onset of symptoms.

Ritonavir is known to have interactions with some other prescription medicines. Pfizer has said that should be manageable and suggested most patients would be able to lower the doses of their other medications while being treated for Covid-19.

Pfizer said it plans to file a new drug application with the FDA in 2022 for potential full regulatory approval.

A rival pill from Merck, which is under review by the FDA, has shown lower efficacy compared with Pfizer's treatment. Merck's drug, molnupiravir, reduced hospital admissions and deaths in its clinical trial of high-risk patients by about 30 per cent.

Updated: December 22, 2021, 6:57 PM