New COVID-19 pill Molnupiravir to be distributed in the Philippines
News | Cailyn Ong
Molnupiravir, a new oral COVID-19 medication developed by US pharmaceutical company Merck, is currently awaiting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and will be distributed locally by Faberco and RiteMed within the next few months.
One of Merck’s licensed manufacturers has appointed Faberco Life Sciences to distribute Molnupiravir in the Philippines, and they have partnered with RiteMed Philippines to assist in this. “We are confident that through the distribution channels of RiteMed, Molnupiravir will reach healthcare facilities throughout the country faster, giving more Filipinos access to this life saving drug the soonest possible time,” said Faberco’s founder Kishore Hemlani.
Two hospitals in the country, including the Lung Center of the Philippines, have already participated in the phase III clinical trials for Molnupiravir, and Faberco is now waiting on more compassionate special permits (CSP) from the government for the hospitals and healthcare facilities they plan to supply with the drug. Currently, only four hospitals have a CSP. Initial batches of Molnupiravir are projected to arrive by November, subject to regulatory approvals.
This drug sets itself apart as the first COVID-19 antiviral treatment to be developed in pill form. Treatments being used now such as Remdisivir or Ronapreve are intravenous drugs, which are administered using insertion of needle or tube into a vein. Molnupiravir can simply be taken orally, making it a treatment option that is easily accessible from home. It is also a lot cheaper as it is projected to cost around $700 for a course of treatment, less than a third of the price of Remdisivir.
Molnupiravir works by mimicking the structure of Sars-CoV-2’s RNA, allowing it to be incorporated into the virus’s RNA strands. This changes Molnupiravir’s configuration, causing a mutation in the RNA strands as the virus multiplies. The more the Sars-CoV-2 multiplies, the more mutated it becomes, eventually preventing it from replicating. “That is what we term lethal mutagenesis… the virus essentially mutates itself to death,” said Richard Plemper, a virologist at Georgia State University.
The antiviral drug’s testing was stopped midway through because the drug was working so well that they wanted to use it to help the control group that was receiving placebo. According to a statement by Merck, the drug “reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by approximately 50%,” and no patients died in the group that received Molnupiravir.
Vice President for research at Merck Dr. Dean Li stated, “When you see a 50 percent reduction in hospitalization or death, that’s a substantial clinical impact.” Their trial data has not yet been peer-reviewed, but the company plans to present it in a medical meeting soon.
The drug is most effective on patients with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, since it was previously tested for cases where people were already hospitalized and was found to be ineffective. Right now, healthcare professionals are looking at using Molnupiravir for controlling the spread of COVID-19 cases that have been detected early. There is a clinical trial to be started this month in the Asian Medical Center and Quirino Memorial Medical Center testing exactly this — Dr. Beaver Tamesis from Merck says, “We will now treat the household members with anti-COVID Molnupiravir versus sugar tablet to see if it will prevent them from catching the illness at all.”
Currently, Merck has submitted an application for emergency use authorization from the FDA and is awaiting their approval. In anticipation of this, Merck has already begun production of the drug, with multiple distribution deals already in the works. The USA has an agreement to purchase 1.7 million courses of Molnupiravir, and Merck is in talks with other countries such as Singapore and Malaysia who intend to purchase the treatment.