Harvard experts in medical therapeutics say the recent development of pills to treat COVID-19 may turn out to be a pandemic game changer for a simple reason: When it comes to treating the ailment, the earlier the better.
Mark Namchuk, executive director of Harvard Medical School’s Therapeutics Initiative, said pills have some clear advantages over existing treatments — the drug remdesivir and a handful of antibody therapies — because they are by comparison easy to transport, store, and administer. The other treatments must be given intravenously and have largely been reserved for use by the sickest patients confined to medical facilities late in their illness’ course.
Namchuk said that assuming the pills are made widely available, they can be prescribed soon after symptoms start at home, with nothing else required to administer them beyond possibly a glass of water.
“They’re both oral, so much easier to get them distributed to folks early in their illness and make them more broadly available,” said Namchuk, professor of the practice of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology. “The efficacy is very encouraging, but the route of administration opens up the possibility of using it more broadly.”
The assessment comes after reports by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics that their COVID-19 pill — currently being reviewed by federal regulators — lowers risk of hospitalization and death by 50 percent, and on the heels of last week’s promising results by Pfizer Inc., which said a Phase 2/3 study of its pill showed that it cuts risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent. The Pfizer results were so promising the study was halted early, the company said. About 1 percent of study participants (6 out of 607) were hospitalized, and none died after 28 days. That compared with 6.7 percent (41 out of 612) hospitalized in the control group, with 10 subsequently dying. The company also plans to seek FDA emergency use authorization to market the pill.