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In a Pill

Merck plans to seek authorization for an antiviral treatment that it says lowers the risk of hospitalization or death of high-risk individuals with COVID-19 when given early, the New York Times reports.

The drug, molnupiravir, is taken as four capsules twice a day for five days and works by stopping the virus from replicating, the Times notes. In its trial of 775 people, Merck, which it developed the treatment with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, found that the risk of being hospitalized or dying was 50 percent lower among the participants who took the drug versus those given placebo. According to Merck, these positive results led the independent monitoring board, in consultation with the US Food and Drug Administration, to recommend ending the study early.

"It exceeded what I thought the drug might be able to do in this clinical trial," Dean Li, vice president of Merck Research Laboratories, tells the Associated Press. "When you see a 50 percent reduction in hospitalization or death that's a substantial clinical impact."

The AP notes that molnupiravir would be the first pill to treat COVID-19, as remdesivir and antibody therapies for COVID-19 are administered intravenously.

CNBC adds that Merck plans to seek an emergency use authorization from FDA and that it has agreed to supply the US with about 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir, if authorized or approved.