New treatment option for COVID-19 could soon be available in pill form

Published: Nov. 25, 2021 at 10:47 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - New ways of fighting COVID-19 could soon become available, including a pill that could treat patients who have an increased risk of becoming hospitalized with the virus.

Imagine if your doctor could literally call in a prescription into your local pharmacy to treat COVID-19. That could happen very soon and bring some potential relief for hospitals.

The first-ever pill to treat COVID-19 is on the verge of becoming a reality. Pfizer and Merck have both submitted applications to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use of a COVID-19 pill.

“They basically work by targeting an enzyme that the virus needs to relocate within humans. So, this pill would be different from the treatment options we have available because this is something people can take at home,” said infectious disease expert Dr. Shirin Mazumder.

Mazumder says currently, the only option to prevent hospitalization is monoclonal antibodies. It’s a treatment that requires patients to go to a center and have the medication administered through an IV.

Early clinical trials for the new drug treatment have proven to be just as effective as antibodies.

Results from the Merck trial released last month showed its pill reduced the risk of hospitalizations by about 50 percent and prevented deaths entirely. But the key to the pill working is taking it in the early stages of infection.

In the Merck and Pfizer clinical trials, treatment began within five days of symptoms starting. That’s a short window, but Mazumder says the new treatment option is still important.

“I think they will be helpful. I think they can save lives, but we want to prevent folks from getting sick in the first place. We want to stress that this medication, while there’s certainly a need for them, they are not a substitution for vaccines,” Mazumder said.

In Shelby County, more than half a million people have been vaccinated.

Vaccination is a tool that this country didn’t have the last time we dealt with a post-holiday surge.

Mazumder says vaccinations save lives, but if you are high risk for a more severe case, new treatment options could lead to a better outcome.

The FDA Advisory Committee will meet next week to discuss approval of Merck’s COVID-19 pill, possibly putting the new treatment in play before the end of the year.

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