New antivirals could be rolled out this winter
Thousands of vulnerable patients could be taking ground-breaking COVID-19 antivirals this winter after the Government announced deals to secure two new treatments.
The deals made by the Antivirals Taskforce are a significant step in its ambition to secure at least two 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 renowned 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 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. The two 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.
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.
Chair of the Antivirals Taskforce, Eddie Gray, said: "This is a very important development in our mission to find antivirals for those exposed to COVID-19, supporting the renowned vaccination programme and the NHS over the coming months. Should they be approved by the medicines regulator, we could see these treatments rolled out to patients this winter, providing them with vital protection."
Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said: "The COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics that have been rolled out to tens of millions of UK patients have had a critical impact on this pandemic, and antivirals bring another key intervention to the table. They will be particularly vital in protecting those who may not get the same antibody response to the vaccines as the majority of the population. We will now work quickly to ensure the right cohorts of people receive these treatments as soon as possible, should they be approved by the MHRA."