Pill

The Covid pill: Merck seeks FDA approval for its first-of-a-kind drug — it could be big

Tuesday, October 12, 2021 by Robinhood Snacks | Disclosures

Hard to swallow... because “molnupiravir” is a mouthful. American pharma giant Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics just filed for FDA approval of molnupiravir — aka the Covid pill. If approved, it would be the first swallowable antiviral Covid drug. So far, Gilead’s remdesivir is the only FDA-approved antiviral, but it's just for hospital patients and has to be injected. Merck said its pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in high-risk people with Covid.

  • Only people with Covid can take the treatment (eight pills/day for five days). The goal: Prevent cases from leading to hospitalizations, which carry a dangerous health toll, and cost an average of $20K per stay.
  • We're still waiting on final results from Merck's big study, but the FDA could clear the pill in the next few weeks.

Winter is coming... and it could be chilly. Sheltering indoors could lead to another Covid surge. Merck is pushing to get this pill out: It's already started production and plans to manufacture 10M treatment courses this year. Oh, and it has a $1.2B contract to provide 1.7M courses to the US gov't, at $712 for each five-day course — or 40X what it reportedly costs to produce.

THE TAKEAWAY

Pharma’s Covid story is far from over... And pills could play a big role, both for those who aren’t vaxxed, and for those who can't. While 80% of US adults are vaccinated, more than half of the world's population hasn't gotten a shot, and only 35% is fully vaxxed. Since unvaccinated people are 11X more likely to die from Covid, the pill could lower death rates in countries with poor vaccine access — if Merck makes it affordable. Merck says it plans to price its pill based on the wealth of the country buying it.