COVID-19 Pill Race Heats Up As Scientists Search For Silver Bullet

News & Politics
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Damir Mujezinovic

Billions of people around the world have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, which has -- in tandem with mitigation measures -- significantly curbed the pandemic.

Still, dangerous and highly-contagious variants, such as Delta, are threatening to derail the progress the world has made in eradicating the virus.

Though vaccines work and prevent symptomatic infections in most cases, drugs that would treat COVID-19 symptoms have yet to be developed.

According to new reports, scientists are working on pills that would do just that.

Continue reading below.

COVID-19 Pill

Pharmaceutical firms -- including Pfizer, Merck, and Japanese-based company Shionogi -- are working on oral drugs that those infected with COVID-19 would take while their symptoms are still mild.

Scientists hope oral pills could help prevent the worsening of COVID-19 symptoms and "neutralize the virus" within days, as reported by Bustle.

Successfully treating people in the early stages of the infection would reduce hospitalizations and deaths, so an effective and safe pill would be a game-changer in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

When Will COVID-19 Pills Be Available?

In March, Pfizer announced it was working on PF-07321332, an oral drug individuals infected with coronavirus would take twice a day.

"Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic requires both preventions via vaccine and targeted treatment for those who contract the virus. 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," the company said at the time.

Merck, meanwhile, is trialing its own coronavirus pill molnupiravir, while Shionogi is working n a once-a-day drug.

It remains unclear if and when the drugs would be approved for use.

Here's What Experts Say

Nathaniel Erdmann, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, told Stat that scientists are looking for an "easy, oral, safe drug," something "I could give everyone in an urgent care setting who comes in with exposure or a positive test."

The process of developing new antiviral treatments is very complicated, but National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci and other top health officials in the Biden administration have made developing drugs to treat COVID-19 their top priority, according to National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins.

Why Antiviral Pills Matter

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According to Sam Fazeli, a senior pharmaceuticals analyst for Bloomberg and director of research for EMEA, it is imperative to develop antiviral drugs if we want to keep COVID-19 at bay.

Some antibodies and other therapies have proved relatively effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths, but they are expensive and difficult to manufacture, Fazeli said, noting that pills would be a "much more manageable alternative."

Fazeli explained that "it is relatively easier to make these drugs than it is to produce vaccines and biologics, and the wherewithal to do so exists across the world."

"This is a key reason I think success with one or more antivirals could be a game changer," he added.