Duke, UNC play role in COVID-19 pill treatment potentially on the way

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The first COVID-19 treatment in pill form may be around the corner. Drug maker Merck announced a pill they developed is showing promising results and they plan to submit an application for emergency authorization soon.

It could make a huge difference in the fight against COVID-19, so much so that the White House has promised to buy nearly two million doses pending FDA authorization.

Anyone becoming infected right now only has an infusion-based therapy as an option. Those who are infected need to get to a monoclonal antibody clinic and hope there’s an empty chair for them.

“Having more treatments is just going to be more helpful with each we’re able to add,” said Dr. Thomas Holland, a professor of infectious diseases at Duke University.

Pharmaceutical company Merck hopes their treatment pill, Molnupiravir, could one day be an option too. It’s taken twice a day for five days.

“Anything we could do to not get infected or get better faster if they do get infected is going to be hugely important,” Holland said.

Clinical trials for Molnupiravir were held at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. Holland didn’t work on that pill’s trials but was involved in others.

“It’s always really exciting when we get some information or evidence that something we’re doing is helping patients with COVID. That’s what we’re all working towards,” Holland said.

Merck said in a news release that trials showed their pill cuts hospitalizations in half. Of the trial participants who got the real pill, 7 percent of patients landed in the hospital. Meanwhile, 14 percent of placebo patients ended up in the hospital.

The pill also proved to be effective against deaths, according to Merck. No patients who got the real pill died while eight placebo recipients did.

The currently available monoclonal antibody treatment still performs better. They’re proven to prevent hospitalization and death by up to 70 percent.

“It’s going to come down to who has access to what. A lot of the infusion centers are really swamped and overwhelmed right now. If there’s a pill that we can administer more easily, that we can get to patients, then that’s going to be life-saving,” Holland said.

While still helpful — it’s not as good as avoiding illness altogether.

“This is not a replacement for vaccination,” Holland said.

Getting COVID-19 treatment

Getting monoclonal antibody treatments is a three-step process.

Step 1: Meet eligibility requirements

  • You must test positive and have symptoms within the last 10 days
  • Have mild or moderate symptoms
  • Be at high-risk for serious illness

Step 2: Get approved

  • Call your doctor to get a referral for monoclonal antibody treatment
  • If you do not have a healthcare provider, call the Combat COVID Monoclonal Antibodies Call Center at 1-877-332-6585.

Step 3: Find a treatment center

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