Is it Possible an Anti-COVID Pill Soon?

In the quest to find cures against COVID-19, the vaccine is not the only option. Several pharmaceutical companies are working on developing an oral medicine to combat the disease.

Hand holding colored pills

The US laboratory Pfizer / BioNTech will begin phase 2/3 of tests with an oral antiviral that is intended to be used in non-hospitalized adults with COVID-19. Photo: Pexels

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: ¿Es posible un píldoras anti-covid pronto?

In the COVID-19 vaccine race, Pfizer / BioNTech leads the way by being the only one that has received full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Added to this success the US laboratory announced they begin phase 2/3 of tests with an oral antiviral that is intended to be used in non-hospitalized adults with COVID-19.

On September 1, the company shared a statement, in which it announced that about 1,140 people who have a low risk of developing the disease will participate in these tests. Patients will be medicated every 12 hours for 5 days. The operation of this medicine, called PF-07321332, consists of inhibiting the activity of the enzyme that the coronavirus needs to be replicated in the body.

However, Pfizer is not the only company testing an antiviral against COVID-19. On the same date as the Pfizer announcement; Merck Sharp & Dohme of Germany and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics of the United States announced the start of the phase 3 clinical trial of Molnupiravir, an investigational pill to prevent coronavirus infection.

This trial will be conducted on a sample of 1,332 patients residing in the same household with someone who has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Molnupiravir has been shown to be effective for the prophylaxis, treatment and prevention of transmission of SARS-CoV-1 and MERS, and also in preclinical trials with COVID-19.

On the other hand, the Japanese pharmaceutical company Shnogi began the phase 1 clinical trial of the oral antiviral medicine S-217622 to treat COVID-19. In this case, the pill would suppress the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus by inhibiting the 3CL protease that is essential for virus replication.

We recommend you read: Inform Yourself Before Travel, What Vaccines Against COVID-19 Do Countries Allow?

Antiviral or oral vaccine?

Antivirals are a type of medicine used to treat infections caused by a virus. However, its effectiveness is limited to how long the medicine is taken. In certain cases, they can be given shortly before or at the beginning of exposure to the virus to limit the disease.

In contrast, vaccines mitigate and prevent infections, while at the same time causing the body to generate an immune response with the production of antibodies. That is, they make the body recognize the virus and defend itself appropriately.

In addition to the antivirals we've already mentioned, Israeli drugmaker Oramed is developing an oral vaccine called Oravax that targets three surface proteins of the SARS CoV-2 virus. This oral vaccine is already in the last phase of trials .

According to the company, this oral vaccine would be more effective against virus mutations because it targets a broader range of antigens that are also more stable in the virus. This type of vaccine would have the advantage of not requiring the logistics of refrigerators and health personnel.

The pill, a new hope

Although pills and vaccines work differently, the eventual approval of an oral antiviral would help fight the pandemic more quickly and efficiently. Likewise, it would be an alternative that could cause less resistance in certain population groups that are distrustful of vaccines and would help them avoid developing serious forms of the disease.

Medications could complement vaccination, because even if a person has been inoculated, the risk of infection persists. Furthermore, the behavior of the new variants against existing vaccines is not yet clear.

In this regard, Dr. Nick Kartsonis, Vice President at Merck Research Laboratories, stated that: "As the pandemic continues to evolve and waves are reported in many parts of the world, it is important that we investigate new ways to protect people exposed to the virus so that they are not infected with symptomatic diseases. "

The Joe Biden government announced in June of this year that it would invest 3 billion dollars for a plan that seeks to support the development of a new generation of treatments against the coronavirus that allows a better response to the disease and its changes in the future. Within the budget, $ 1.2 billion will be used to support innovative antiviral medicine research groups .

Experts and WHO projections indicate that COVID-19 could become an endemic disease in the future. That is, it would not go away, but we would learn to control it through vaccination and drugs, as has happened with chickenpox.