German pharmaceutical giant Merck and a US partner reported promising results Saturday in trials of a drug administered orally to fight Covid-19, saying it helps reduce patients' viral load.
"At a time where there is unmet need for antiviral treatments against SARS-CoV-2, we are encouraged by these preliminary data," said Wendy Painter, chief medical officer of the US firm, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
In January, Merck halted work on two Covid vaccine candidates but has pressed on with research into two products to treat the disease, including a pill-based one called molnupiravir, which it has developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
This drug caused a significant drop in patients' viral load after five days of treatment with it, Merck said at a meeting with infectious disease experts.
This Phase 2a test -- drug trials have three stages before a product can be approved -- was carried out among 202 non-hospitalised people with symptoms of Covid-19.
There was no alert in terms of safety, and of four serious adverse events that were reported, none were considered to be related to taking this drug, Ridgeback said.
Anti-viral oral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) are sometimes prescribed for seasonal flu but researchers have yet to come up with something similar to fight the coronavirus.
The findings of this study -- a quicker decrease in viral load among individuals with early-stage Covid-19 who are treated with molnupiravir -- are promising, said William Fischer, lead investigator of the study and a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina.
"If supported by additional studies, (they) could have important public health implications, particularly as the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to spread and evolve globally," Fischer added.
Merck is also working on another oral Covid treatment called MK-711.
Preliminary results from clinical trials with it show a more than 50 percent reduction in risk of death or respiratory trouble in patients hospitalised with moderate to severe Covid-19, the company said in January.
The coronavirus has killed at least 2,589,408 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP yesterday.
The US Senate on Saturday voted to approve a $1.9 trillion relief package in what President Joe Biden called a "giant step" towards reviving the pandemic-stricken American economy, capping frenzied negotiations and a marathon overnight voting session.
"I promised the American people help was on the way," said Biden in an address from the White House, after the plan was approved along strict party lines.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the reopening of schools to all pupils will mark the first step back towards normality and is only possible because of the efforts of the public to bring Covid-19 infection rates down.
Johnson has announced a roadmap for lifting lockdown measures that sees schools open first from today, followed in later stages by the gradual easing of restrictions on mixing with other people and the reopening of non-essential shops and other venues.
Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city, yesterday emerged from a strict weeklong lockdown imposed after a community cluster of the more contagious British coronavirus variant.
There were no new local cases recorded yesterday, health officials said, marking a full week of no community transmissions across the country, reports Reuters.
Footage on TVNZ, New Zealand's state-owned television network, showed people lining up at coffee shops with many saying they were feeling relieved.
Israel took another step towards post-pandemic normalcy yesterday, opening restaurants, bars and cafes to vaccinated "green pass" holders, with about 40 percent of the population fully inoculated against the coronavirus.
"We are coming to life," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, as he cut into a pastry at a Jerusalem cafe, according to a video posted on Facebook.
Ethiopia yesterday received its first 2.2 million doses of vaccine against the coronavirus, and officials in Africa's second most populous country said the first jabs would be administered in the coming days.
Austrian authorities have suspended inoculations with a batch of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine as a precaution while investigating the death of one person and the illness of another after the shots, a health agency said yesterday.
"The Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG) has received two reports in a temporal connection with a vaccination from the same batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the district clinic of Zwettl" in Lower Austria province, it said.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that US scientists are skeptical of a one-shot regimen for Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc Covid-19 vaccines, saying there isn't enough evidence that a single dose provides long-term protection.
"It is essential that these vaccines be used as authorized by FDA in order to prevent Covid-19 and related hospitalizations and death," Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told the Journal.