Merck says its antiviral COVID-19 pill should be effective against the Omicron variant as FDA panel decides whether or not to authorize the drug

Merck believes its antiviral COVID-19 pill, molnupiravir, is effective against the highly mutated Omicron variantMany drug manufacturers fear that the high number of mutations the variant has will deem the vaccines and Covid treatment ineffectiveMonupiravir has been lauded as a potential 'game changer' in the pandemic due to how effective it is and how easy it is to administer Drug works by preventing the virus from replicating itself within a person's body, stopping it from infecting cells Clinical trials find that the drug can reduce Covid related hospitalizations or deaths by 30% to 50% 

Merck & Co believes its promising new Covid treatment is effective against the Omicron variant.

Molnupiravir, developed by the Kenilworth, New Jersey-based pharmaceutical, stops the virus from making copies of itself, which prevents it from spreading throughout the body. 

Merck believes that since the drug does not target the spike protein, where many of the concerning Omicron variant mutations are occurring, its drug should be effective still. 

Recent trial data has found the drug can reduce risk of death from the virus by 30 percent – but some vaccine and drug manufacturers fear their products will not be as effective against the recently discovered, highly mutated, strain.

It comes as an advisory panel from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) meets on Tuesday to decide whether or not Merck’s therapy can receive emergency use authorization. 

Merck believes its antiviral Covid pill molnupiravir (pictured) is still effective against the Omicron variant. The company is seeking FDA authorization for the drug and an advisory panel is discussing the approval on Tuesday

 Merck believes its antiviral Covid pill molnupiravir (pictured) is still effective against the Omicron variant. The company is seeking FDA authorization for the drug and an advisory panel is discussing the approval on Tuesday

During a presentation to the FDA panel Tuesday, Daria Hazuda, vice president of Merck’s infectious diseases and vaccines division said she believes the drug should have similar effectiveness against all new variants of the virus.

She also said that molnupiravir showed effectiveness against the Delta variant – which is still the dominant strain worldwide – in clinical trials.

But many other drug manufacturers are fearful that their products are less effective against the mutant virus strain.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said on Monday that his company’s COVID-19 vaccine may not provide as many antibodies to combat Omicron as it does for other strains.

BioNTech, who partnered with Pfizer for distribution of its vaccine, and Johnson & Johnson are both working on Omicron specific vaccines in the wake of fears their vaccines are now less effective.

Pfizer is also seeking approval for an antiviral Covid pill, though has not revealed any information on whether the company believes its drug is effective against the new strain. 

Regeneron, producer of an authorized monoclonal antibody Covid treatment, also believes its drug could be less effective against the variant. 

The fears spawn from the high number of mutations the Omicron variant has compared to other virus strains.

Omicron, discovered last week by South African health officials, is found to have more than 50 mutations, with more than 30 being on the spike protein, the part of the virus that the vaccines target.

Merck is confident that these mutations will not affect the way that its drug fights the virus. 

Molnupiravir works by blocking the virus from replicating in the body.

It does so by introducing errors into Covid’s genetic code, hampering its ability to multiply in human cells.

The medicine targets an enzyme that the virus relies on to generate copies of itself. Merck said this process should make the tablet equally effective at tackling new variants. 

Two specific proteins are targeted by the drug, and each only have one mutation on them

Neither mutation is believed to be able to prevent the drug from being effective at preventing replication of the virus. 

The drug has been deemed a ‘game changer’ by some due to its effectiveness in preventing hospitalization or death from the virus. 

Clinical trials find that it can reduce the risk of negative outcomes from the virus by between 30 to 50 percent.

It is also easier to administer than many other popular Covid treatments, as a patient only has to take pills, compared to the resource and equipment intensive process of delivering  monoclonal antibody treatments.

The drug is administered to Covid patients in four pill doses, twice a day for five days upon a person feeling symptoms of the virus.   

Merck is seeking regulatory approval worldwide for the use of its drug, and has partnered with generic drug manufacturers to make it available in the developing world.

It has so far received approval in the UK, and EU regulators have allowed for it to be adminsitered in the most high risk patients, pending full approval. 

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