Pfizer Inc. said on Friday that its experimental antiviral pill for Covid-19 cut rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90 percent in high-risk adults, as the drugmaker joins the race to bring the first easy-to-use medication against the coronavirus to the U.S. market.
Currently all Covid-19 treatments used in the U.S. require an IV or injection. Competitor Merck’s Covid-19 pill is already under review at the Food and Drug Administration after showing strong initial results, and on Thursday the United Kingdom became the first country to OK it.
Pfizer said it will ask the FDA and international regulators to authorize its pill as soon as possible, after independent experts recommended halting the company’s study based on the strength of its results. Once Pfizer applies, the FDA could make a decision within weeks or months. If authorized the company would sell the drug under the brand name Paxlovid.
Researchers worldwide have been racing to find a pill against Covid-19 that can be taken at home to ease symptoms, speed recovery and reduce the crushing burden on hospitals and doctors.
Pfizer released preliminary results Friday of its study of 775 adults. Patients who received the company’s drug along with another antiviral shortly after showing Covid-19 symptoms had an 89-percent reduction in their combined rate of hospitalization or death after a month, compared to patients taking a dummy pill. Fewer than 1 percent of patients taking the drug needed to be hospitalized and no one died. In the comparison group, 7 percent were hospitalized and there were seven deaths.
Study participants were unvaccinated, with mild-to-moderate Covid-19, and were considered high risk for hospitalization due to health problems like obesity, diabetes or heart disease. Treatment began within three to five days of initial symptoms, and lasted for five days. Patients who received the drug earlier showed slightly better results, underscoring the need for speedy testing and treatment.
Pfizer reported few details on side effects but said rates of problems were similar between the groups at about 2 percent.