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Pfizer begins early-stage study of oral Covid-19 drug

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Pfizer has started an early-stage US trial of an oral Covid-19 antiviral therapy that could be prescribed to patients at the first sign of infection, the company said on Tuesday (March 23).

The drugmaker, which developed the first authorised Covid-19 vaccine in the US with Germany’s BioNTech SA, said the antiviral candidate showed potent activity against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in lab studies.

Pfizer’s candidate, named PF-07321332, is a protease inhibitor that prevents the virus from replicating in cells.

Protease inhibitors have been effective at treating other viral pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis C virus, both on their own and in combination with other antivirals, the company said.

Pfizer believes this class of molecules may provide well-tolerated treatments against Covid-19, as currently marketed therapeutics that work on the same lines have not reported safety concerns.

The company is also studying an intravenously administered antiviral candidate in an early-stage trial in hospitalised Covid-19 patients.

“Together, the two (oral and intravenous candidates) have the potential to create an end-to-end treatment paradigm that complements vaccination in cases where disease still occurs,” Pfizer’s Chief Medical Officer Mikael Dolsten said in a statement.

Pfizer’s candidate is behind two other oral antiviral therapies, which are in mid-stage trials – the first being developed by rival Merck & Co with Ridgeback Bio, and a second from Roche Holding and Atea Pharmaceuticals.

Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir is currently the only US Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for the treatment of Covid-19.

The FDA has granted an emergency authorisation to intravenous therapies from Eli Lilly – bamlanivimab alone and in combination with etesevimab, and a combination therapy from Regeneron.

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