Health Minister seeking to purchase €90m worth of Covid anti-viral pills

Stephen Donnelly will bring a memo on the purchase of the drugs made by Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck to Cabinet this morning
Health Minister seeking to purchase €90m worth of Covid anti-viral pills

The Minister for Health is seeking Government approval for the purchase of €90 million worth of Covid-19 anti-viral pills.

Stephen Donnelly will bring a memo on the purchase of the drugs, made by Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, to Cabinet this morning in its first meeting of the year.

Manufacturers have said the pills produce good results in vulnerable patients and dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death.

The drugs are being examined by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) but have yet to be given full approval.

Just before Christmas, the US authorised Pfizer's drug Paxlovid for people aged 12 and older, with trial data showing it to be nearly 90 per cent effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness.

The US also authorised the use of Merck & Co's anti-viral pill for certain high-risk adult patients, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) saying it could be used when other authorised treatments are not accessible or clinically appropriate.

Virus replicating

The drug, molnupiravir, was developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and shown to reduce hospitalisations and deaths by around 30 per cent in a clinical trial of high-risk individuals early in the course of the illness.

Merck's and Pfizer's anti-viral drugs both work by preventing the virus from replicating. Merck's pill does so by introducing errors into the genetic code of the virus.

Some of the FDA's experts have said that could lead to more troublesome variants. There have also been some safety concerns around the drug because it may affect bone cartilage and growth. Due to that reason, Merck's drug is not authorised for use in patients younger than 18 in the US and is not recommended for use during pregnancy.

The FDA also said some patients should avoid Pfizer's two-drug regimen because it includes an older anti-viral called ritonavir that is known to have interactions with some other prescription medicines. It is also not recommended for people with severe kidney issues.

The US government has ordered 10 million courses of the Pfizer drug at a price of $530 (€468.88) per course, and has a deal with Merck for as many as five million courses of molnupiravir at a price of $700 (€619.16) per course.

The Merck drug is meant to be taken twice a day - four pills each time - for five days, making a full treatment course 40 pills.

-Additional reporting by Reuters.

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