Washington: Pfizer said Tuesday that its experimental pill to treat Covid-19 appears effective against the omicron variant. The company also said full results of its 2,250-person study confirmed the pill’s promising early results against the virus. Pfizer said the drug reduced combined hospitalisations and deaths by about 89 per cent among high-risk adults when taken shortly after initial Covid-19 symptoms.
Separate laboratory testing shows the drug retains its potency against the omicron variant, Pfizer announced, as many experts had predicted. Pfizer tested the anti-viral drug against a man-made version of a key protein that omicron uses to reproduce itself.
The updates come as Covid-19 cases, deaths and hospitalization are all rising again. The latest surge, driven by the delta variant, is accelerating due to colder weather and more indoor gatherings, even as health officials brace for the impact of the emerging omicron mutant.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to soon rule on whether to authorise Pfizer’s pill and a competing pill from Merck, which was submitted to regulators several weeks earlier. If granted, the pills would be the first Covid-19 treatments that Americans could pick up at a pharmacy and take at home.
Pfizer’s data could help reassure regulators of its drug’s benefit after Merck disclosed smaller-than-expected benefits for its drug in final testing. Late last month, Merck said that its pill reduced hospitalisations and deaths by 30 per cent in high-risk adults.
Pfizer is also studying its pill in lower-risk adults — including a subset who are vaccinated — but reported mixed data for that group Tuesday. In interim results, Pfizer said its drug failed to meet its main study goal: sustained relief from Covid-19 for four days during or after treatment, as reported by patients.
The prospect of new pills to fight Covid-19 can’t come soon enough for communities in the Northeast and Midwest, where many hospitals are once again being overloaded by incoming virus cases. Both the Merck and Pfizer pills are expected to perform well against omicron because they don’t target the coronavirus’ spike protein, which contains most of the new variant’s mutations.