Why Merck’s Covid-19 pill molnupiravir could be so important


The pharmaceutical giant Merck on Friday reported good news for people sick with Covid-19: Its antiviral drug molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization and death in at-risk patients by 50 percent, according to the company’s interim analysis.

A new and effective Covid-19 treatment — if approved by health regulators — could be a versatile tool for doctors to treat Covid-19 patients and could ultimately save lives. While there are a number of treatments for Covid-19 on the market, many of them are expensive, difficult to administer, not widely available, or only marginally effective.

Molnupiravir, originally developed to treat influenza, could solve many of these challenges. It’s administered as a twice-a-day pill for five days, compared to other Covid-19 treatments that require expensive intravenous transfusions, such as monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma. The antiviral drug remdesivir, currently the only drug with full Food and Drug Administration approval to treat Covid-19, also has to be delivered into the bloodstream.

A drug like molnupiravir (the name is a reference to Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir) could also help compensate for persistent gaps in Covid-19 vaccination coverage, both in the United States and abroad.