THE FIRST patients in the UK are set to get a “game-changing” Covid pill they can take at home.
The drug molnupiravir will be rolled out to homes across the nation in a major trial.
Some 10,000 people will receive it within days of testing positive with the virus, as Omicron cases surge.
The drug, also known as Lagevrio, made by the US company Merck and Ridgeback, is designed to reduce the risk of hospital treatment in people deemed vulnerable to Covid.
The UK already bought 480,000 courses of the treatment when early results of a clinical trial showed it reduced hospitalisations and deaths in high-risk patients by around 30 per cent.
Last month, the UK became the first country in the world to license its use – a move described as a “game-changer” by the Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
But the final results of the study, published yesterday, were “not as good” as the early results, said Prof Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Prof Evans said: “The overall evidence of efficacy may be reasonably clear, but it does seem likely that the interim results overestimated that efficacy.
“While this could be a useful drug, it is not a panacea for where vaccination does not occur.
“The trial was conducted in situations where the Omicron variant was not circulating so results for that variant are inevitably speculative.”
Recently, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned its use may have to be reconsidered in the light of the emergence of Omicron.
The variant has rapidly become an obstacle in the battle against Covid in the space of a few weeks.
It’s both faster spreading and able to dodge immunity from prior infection and vaccination – although jabs are still the best protection against it.
The trial is part of PANORAMIC – The Platform Adaptive trial of NOvel antiviRals for eArly treatMent of covid-19 In the Community, run by the University of Oxford in collaboration with GP hubs.
Researchers are assessing the effectiveness of a range of at-home Covid antivirals which are designed to be taken in the early stages of infection.
Recruitment is still ongoing, looking for 10,600 volunteers for each arm of the study.
People can sign up if they have tested positive for the virus, are within five days from the onset of symptoms, and are aged 50 and over.
They can also join if they are between 18 to 49 years with underlying health conditions that make them clinically more vulnerable.
All participants should have recorded a positive PCR test within the past seven days.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said last week: “This opens up a new era for the treatment of COVID-19, one where we can begin to cover every phase of contracting this deadly disease – whether it be before you catch it, just after you catch it, if you develop symptoms or if you require hospital care.
“If you’re eligible, please sign up to the study as soon as possible and play your part in history.”
The UK Antiviral Taskforce has selected the treatments to be tested, the of which will be molnupiravir.
Half of participants will take molnupiravir, and half will receive standard care, then the outcomes will be compared.
Results from the national study will help NHS plan who to give antivirals to.
Eddie Gray, chairman of UK Antivirals Taskforce, said: “We want to ensure that a wide number of people are conscious and aware that if they get symptoms and a positive test, they qualify and for them to move quickly into that system.
“I think if they can do that, then there’s an awful lot of benefit to be gained both for those individual patients and for the UK healthcare system.”
He added: “I think it gives us a real mechanism for managing patients in what is an extremely high pressure time for frontline staff in the National Health Service.
“But for us to do that, we need the active engagement of the potential patients.”
The Covid antiviral pill already licensed by the the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).