Molnupiravir, developed by the US drug companies Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD) and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, is the first antiviral medication for Covid which can be taken as a pill rather than injected or given intravenously.
The UK has agreed to purchase 480,000 courses with the first deliveries expected in November.
Initially it will be given to both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients through a national study, with extra data on its effectiveness collected before any decision to order more.
The drug needs to be given within five days of symptoms developing to be most effective.
It’s not immediately clear how it will be distributed so quickly by the NHS. It’s thought some care homes may be offered supplies while other elderly or vulnerable patients may be prescribed it by their GP after testing positive for Covid.
The UK regulator, the MHRA, said the tablet had been authorised for use in people who have mild to moderate Covid and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness such as obesity, old age, diabetes or heart disease.
The organisation’s chief executive, June Raine, described it as “another therapeutic to add to our armoury against Covid-19”.
Earlier clinical trials of molnupiravir on 775 patients who had recently caught Covid found:
- 7.3% of those given the drug were hospitalised
- that compares with 14.1% of patients who were given a placebo or dummy pill
- there were no deaths in the molnupiravir group, but eight patients who were given a placebo in the trial later died of Covid
The results were published in a press release and have not yet been peer-reviewed.