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Coronavirus pill shows promising feedback in early testing

Drugmakers Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said a small study found its Tamiflu-like pill reduced the infectious virus in some of the people tested.

WASHINGTON — An experimental COVID-19 pill has shown promising results in a preliminary study, the companies developing the drug said Saturday.

In a press release, drugmakers Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said a small study found its Tamiflu-like pill molnupiravir helped reduced the amount of time someone was infected.

The study showed after a five-day treatment, 42% of the 182 non-hospitalized participants had reduced COVID-19 infections compared to the placebo. Other studies on the drug are still underway, so the full results haven't been released at this time.

Merck Research Laboratory's Dr. Roy Baynes, senior vice president and head of global clinical development and chief medical officer, said the company is continuing to make progress investigating the drug in both outpatient and hospital settings. He added that the company plans to release more updates on molnupiravir "when appropriate."

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Officials said of the 202 treated participants, there were four serious adverse events, however, none were considered to be drug-related. 

“We are very pleased to share our initial Phase 2 infectivity data at this important conference, which remains at the forefront for critical clinical scientific information in infectious diseases,” shared Dr. Wendy Painter, Chief Medical Officer of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. “At a time where there is unmet need for antiviral treatments against SARS-CoV-2, we are encouraged by these preliminary data.”

The lead investigator on the study, Dr. William Fischer, said in a statement that if more findings support molnupiravir's treatment of the coronavirus, this "could have important public health implications, particularly as the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to spread and evolve globally."

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For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The United States has more than 28 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As of Monday, the U.S. had more than 525,000 deaths from the virus. Worldwide, there are more than 116 million confirmed cases with more than 2.5 million deaths.