Pfizer’s at-home Covid pill beats Omicron and cuts risk of death by 89%, bosses claim

A NEW Covid pill from Pfizer drastically reduces hospitalisations and deaths, the company has said – and it will fight Omicron, too.

The company confirmed early results that the medicine reduced hospitalisations and deaths among at-risk people by a “stunning” 89 per cent.

The American drugmaker said lab studies showed that treatment should withstand the highly mutated Omicron variant – which is likely to become dominant in the UK in days.

The announcement came as a study showed two doses of the Pfizer Covid vaccine was 70 per cent effective in stopping severe illness from Omicron.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement the new pill – which is yet to be authorised anywhere in the world – could "save lives”.

He said: "This news provides further corroboration that our oral antiviral candidate, if authorized or approved, could have a meaningful impact on the lives of many.”

Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten said: "It's a stunning outcome.

"We're talking about a staggering number of lives saved and hospitalisations prevented."

He added: "If you deploy this quickly after infection, we are likely to reduce transmission dramatically.”

The medicine, called Paxlovid, was trialled with more than 2,200 volunteers.

The pill reduced the need for hospitalisation by 89 per cent in high-risk individuals when treatment started within three days of symptom onset, and by 88 per cent if given within five days.

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Nobody died in the group who got the drug compared to 12 in the group who did not.

Among people with a standard-risk of Covid, hospitalisations were cut by around 70 per cent. But Pfizer is still studying this group. 

HOW IT WORKS

Paxlovid is a combination of two drugs – nirmatrelvir, a new experimental medicine, and ritonavir, an existing antiviral used against HIV.

Nirmatrelvir is part of a class of drugs called “protease inhibitors" and works by blocking the action of an enzyme the coronavirus needs to replicate. 

These medicines are already used to treat HIV, hepatitis C and other viruses.

Ritonavir is administered to slow down the breakdown of nirmatrelvir inside the body, increasing its efficacy.

If authorised, people would take a total of 30 pills over the course of five days. 

Paxlovid does not target the spike proteins on the surface of the coronavirus.

We're talking about a staggering number of lives saved and hospitalizations prevented

In theory it should withstand mutations that occur in the spike, which often occurs when new variants emerge.

Omicron has dozens of mutations in the spike protein – but this should not affect the efficacy of the drug.

Covid vaccines were made to target the spike protein, which is why they have become weaker against new variants such as Omicron.

The drug has not received authorisation for use anywhere in the world, including the UK.

But Pfizer believe it could be authorised in the US in days, after it shared its data with the US Food and Drug Administration.

Government ministers created a taskforce to find at-home pills that can be taken early in the course of Covid disease.

So far regulators have approved molnupiravir, also known as Lagevrio, made by the US company Merck and Ridgeback.

The drug showed more modest results, reducing hospitalisations and deaths in its clinical trial of high-risk patients by around 30 per cent.

Scientists said the drug was only useful for the most vulnerable people.

There are also some safety concerns, as molnupiravir is not recommended for pregnant women after animal studies raised concerns about birth defects.

Molnupiravir, which works in a different way to the Pfizer drug, is set to be trialled by the NHS in a national pilot before Christmas.

But recently, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned its use may have to be reconsidered in the light of the emergence of Omicron.

The variant has rapidly become an obstacle in the battle against Covid in the space of a few weeks.

It's both faster spreading and able to dodge immunity from prior infection and vaccination – although jabs are still the best protection against it.

A new study suggests people with two doses of the Pfizer jab are 70 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital compared with those who are unvaccinated.

This is lower than the 93 per cent against Delta.

Experts also supported the theory that the strain is milder, based on early data from the Omicron outbreak in South Africa.

Overall, adults infected with Omicron in the country were 29 per cent less likely to need hospital care compared with earlier variants, the study found.

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