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Pfizer’s Covid pill breakthrough

6 November 2021

10:00 AM

6 November 2021

10:00 AM

After the UK medicines regulator yesterday approved Merck’s Covid pill for use on recently infected, vulnerable patients, Pfizer announced its own successful treatment, Paxlovid. Pfizer’s pill was shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death in Covid patients by up to 89 per cent compared with a placebo.

The drug has proved so effective that enrolment in the trial has been stopped and Pfizer says it plans to apply to the US regulator for emergency use ‘as soon as possible’. The pill is most effective when treatment starts as soon as a patient becomes aware they are infected with or have been exposed to the virus. It’s taken with a pre-existing HIV drug — ritonavir — which helps it stay in the body for longer. Pfizer scientists say it works by blocking the activity of an enzyme that the virus needs in order to replicate itself.


In the period that ten people died after receiving the placebo there were no deaths in the treatment group. And in the same period, 7 per cent of placebo patients ended up in hospital compared to 0.8 per cent on the treatment. The UK has ordered enough of the Pfizer pill to treat a quarter of a million patients.

Vaccines have weakened the link between infections and deaths, with English deaths 89 per cent below last winter’s peak. However, they are beginning to rise in the elderly who are more vulnerable to so-called breakthrough infections and waning immunity. The usual suspects say this data warrants further restrictions. But with another effective treatment on the way — and many more in development — we can become increasingly confident that this winter will be lockdown-free.

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