The government has agreed deals for two new treatments which could be used to help those most at risk of coronavirus.
Thousands of courses of the antivirals have been secured by the Government to be ready for use this winter, subject to approval by the UK medicines regulator.
The treatments, from pharmaceutical companies Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD), and Pfizer, would be aimed at those most at risk from the virus, including the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
Molnupiravir has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospital admission or death for at-risk adults with mild to moderate Covid-19 by 50%, the department said.
Pfizer’s antiviral is at the beginning of its phase three trials.
Both are awaiting approval by the the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
It is understood that, if approved, Molnupiravir could be available by the middle of November, and Pfizer’s treatment by the middle of January 2022.
Statement from Sajid Javid
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “I am delighted to confirm we may soon have a new defence in our arsenal with two new antiviral drugs that we have secured.
“Our work is far from done though – and we’ll continue our tireless work to secure more innovative treatments so we can protect as many people as possible from the virus, its variants and future diseases.”
Work is under way to look at how to deploy the treatments, with making them available from pharmacies understood to be one option under consideration.
Eddie Gray, chairman of the Government’s Antivirals Taskforce, said the deals are a “very important development in our mission to find antivirals for those exposed to Covid-19, supporting the renowned vaccination programme and the NHS over the coming months”.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said antivirals “bring another key intervention to the table”.
He said: “They will be particularly vital in protecting those who may not get the same antibody response to the vaccines as the majority of the population.
“We will now work quickly to ensure the right cohorts of people receive these treatments as soon as possible, should they be approved by the MHRA.”
Costs of the deals have not been disclosed due to commercial sensitivities.
Statement from Welsh Government
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Wales is playing a major role in the UK-wide research into antiviral drugs which may help protect people from the worst symptoms of the virus. We are working with Health and Care Research Wales and Cardiff University to support the trials.
“Antiviral medicines will provide an additional layer of protection and an action that people can take to help them recover from the virus.
“Vaccines remain the best way that we can protect ourselves this winter and it is important that people come forward when they are invited to have their COVID-19 and flu jabs.”