UK Government announces COVID Antiviral Drugs to help Combat Winter Pandemic, October/November 2021

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) recently announced that a series of antiviral drugs, designed to treat vulnerable or at-risk patients against COVID-19, are to be released shortly once they are approved.

Following the lifting of nearly all lockdown restrictions, The Government has been relying on vaccinations and preventative measures in an effort to try and stop the pressure on the NHS during the winter season, given the high case rate of over 30,000 new infections a day.

The Government’s Antivirals Taskforce has secured over 400,000 courses of an antiviral pill called molnupiravir, which they say can be used on patients that have not been hospitalised.

Created by Merck (Merck Sharp & Dohme) Biopharmaceuticals (MSD), partnered with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and branded as ‘Lagevrio’, the drug is said to reduce the rate of hospitalization and death in mild-to-moderately ill patients who had at least one risk factor for the disease, and could become the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19.

Known for their Coronavirus vaccine work, Pfizer have also been working to produce an antiviral solution, and recently started testing for the prevention of COVID-19 in people exposed to the virus.

Known as PF-07321332 (or ‘Paxlovid’), this drug is reported to act as an inhibitor drug designed to block the activity of a key enzyme within the virus, and so prevents the virus from multiplying and causing further harm within the patient.

Once this drug is also approved, it will be administered with established medication commonly used in combination treatments for other infections, and it is said the Government has also secured over 200,000 courses of this antiviral.

Previously, the only approved treatment for the virus was dexamethasone, an affordable steroid given to people who were already seriously ill, and the drug was known to cut their risk of death.

It is now hoped NHS bosses could deliver these upcoming antiviral solutions to vulnerable people who have not been infected with coronavirus but are at high risk, such as residents of care homes which are experiencing an outbreak, or possibly patients with very poor or no immune system, like the recently approved Ronapreve medication used to treat patients with confirmed acute COVID-19 infection.

At the time writing, neither drug has yet been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), however a study into the effectiveness of the Lagevrio/molnupiravir antiviral suggests promising results.

More information can be found at the Government website.