British regulators said Thursday that molnupiravir reduces the risk of hospitalization and death in at-risk coronavirus patients. File Photo by Justin Lane/EPA-EFE
Nov. 4 (UPI) -- British regulators on Thursday approved Merck's drug molnupiravir, which is one of the first pills to actively treat COVID-19 infection.
Medical experts have said they expect the drug, which doesn't require special storage or manufacturing, to be a significant tool in fighting COVID-19 worldwide -- particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said Thursday that molnupiravir reduces the risk of hospitalization and death in coronavirus patients who are at increased risk of developing severe disease.
"Today is a historic day for our country, as the U.K. is now the first country in the world to approve an antiviral that can be taken at home for COVID-19," Sajid Javid, British health and social care secretary, said in a statement. "This will be a game changer for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the ground-breaking treatment."
Javid said British regulators are working on a plan to distribute the drug.
"This antiviral will be an excellent addition to our armory against COVID-19, and it remains vital everyone comes forward for their life-saving COVID-19 vaccine -- particularly those eligible for a booster -- to ensure as many people as possible are protected over the coming months," he added.
MHRA CEO Dr. June Raine said scientists and clinicians have been satisfied that molnupiravir is safe and effective in preventing severe COVID-19.
"This is important because it means it can be administered outside of a hospital setting before COVID-19 has progressed to a severe stage," Raine said in a statement. "With no compromises on quality, safety and effectiveness, the public can trust that the MHRA has conducted a robust and thorough assessment of the data."
Last month, Merck asked regulators for emergency authorization for molnupiravir in the United States. If approved, it would be the first tablet in the country authorized for treatment of COVID-19.