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Pfizer’s coronavirus oral antiviral pill could be game changer: A ‘really important weapon’ as infections surge

Treatment in high-risk adults cut hospitalization or death by 89%

FILE – This Feb. 5, 2021, file photo shows the Pfizer logo displayed at the company’s headquarters in New York. Pfizer says its experimental pill for COVID-19 cut rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90% among patients with mild-to-moderate infections. The company announced Friday, Nov. 5, it will soon ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and international regulators to authorize its pill, which is taken twice a day for five days. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE – This Feb. 5, 2021, file photo shows the Pfizer logo displayed at the company’s headquarters in New York. Pfizer says its experimental pill for COVID-19 cut rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90% among patients with mild-to-moderate infections. The company announced Friday, Nov. 5, it will soon ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and international regulators to authorize its pill, which is taken twice a day for five days. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
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Pfizer’s new anti-COVID-19 pill, which fights the disease in people that get infected, could prove to be a “really important weapon” and potential game changer in the battle against the virus, infectious disease experts told the Herald.

Pfizer presented data to federal regulators Tuesday, saying its COVID-19 oral antiviral pill shows promising results fighting coronavirus among infected people and even appears to work on the new omicron variant.

According to the research, the treatment was very effective for high-risk adults who got infected and took the pill within three days of symptom onset. The pharma giant announced that the pill slashed the risk of hospitalization or death for this population by 89%.

Also, recent laboratory data suggests that the oral antiviral candidate called “Paxlovid” will be effective against current variants of concern, including the new highly contagious omicron variant.

These results from the Phase 2/3 studies of Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral are “pretty impressive,” and the pill will be key in the battle against the virus, said Davidson Hamer, a Boston University specialist in infectious diseases.

“It’s going to be a really important weapon, another important tool in our tool belt,” Hamer said. “This gives you time to get tested after developing symptoms, and then access treatment and get a benefit from it.”

He noted that vaccine breakthrough infections are rising and that vaccines appear to offer less defense against the new omicron variant. Vaccines are doing a good job at preventing severe disease and hospitalization for the vast majority of people.

“This treatment should help further reduce the burden on health facilities,” Hamer said. “It should be a great option to offer those who are high risk to get better faster and stay out of the hospital.”

He stressed, however, that people need to understand that this pill treatment is not a reason to avoid vaccination and boosters.

Hamer also warned that “resistance is not far around the corner” from any new antiviral drug.

In addition to the high-risk population results, Pfizer on Tuesday said the pill treatment was effective for standard-risk adults. There was a 70% reduction in hospitalization and no deaths were observed in the treated population of standard-risk adults.

The pill treatment also helped cut viral load by about tenfold, indicating robust activity against the bug. That’s the strongest viral load reduction to date for an oral COVID-19 agent.

Pfizer shared the data with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as part of its submission for emergency use authorization. The agency, which is also reviewing a similar pill developed by Merck, is expected to rule on both soon.

“This news provides further corroboration that our oral antiviral candidate, if authorized or approved, could have a meaningful impact on the lives of many, as the data further support the efficacy of PAXLOVID in reducing hospitalization and death and show a substantial decrease in viral load,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

“This underscores the treatment candidate’s potential to save the lives of patients around the world,” he added. “Emerging variants of concern, like omicron, have exacerbated the need for accessible treatment options for those who contract the virus, and we are confident that, if authorized or approved, this potential treatment could be a critical tool to help quell the pandemic.”

If authorized or approved, the pill will be administered at a dose of 300 mg (two 150 mg tablets) of nirmatrelvir with one 100 mg tablet of ritonavir — given two times a day for five days. One box contains five blister packs of Paxlovid, as co-packaged nirmatrelvir tablets with ritonavir tablets, providing all of the required doses for a full five-day treatment course.

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