More demand, more products: Pfizer testing ‘oral drug’ to prevent Covid-19 in people exposed to virus

Pharma giant Pfizer has said it is testing thousands of adults who have been exposed to Covid-19 with a new oral drug meant to inhibit the onset of the virus.

Pfizer is stepping up its pandemic research, announcing on Monday that they are moving into mid-to-late trial testing for the oral antiviral candidate known as PF-07321332, which they found to be “safe and well-tolerated” in the first trial phase. 

The company said in its announcement that the drug could be used “at the first sign of infection or at first awareness of an exposure without requiring patients to be hospitalized.”

Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, has described the drug and other preventative efforts as “complements” to the main vaccine which the company already has available on the market. 

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“If successful, we believe this therapy could help stop the virus early – before it has had a chance to replicate extensively – potentially preventing symptomatic disease in those who have been exposed and inhibiting the onset of infection in others,” he said. 

The company will next recruit more than 2,600 adults who live in a home with someone confirmed to have a symptomatic Covid-19 infection. 

Test subjects will be given the drug twice a day for five or 10 days, plus a low dose of HIV drug ritonavir to slow the breakdown of the drug, which works to prevent an enzyme from duplicating coronavirus. Some participants will receive an oral placebo as part of the study.

There are no post-exposure orally-administered therapies currently approved to prevent against Covid-19. Pfizer’s vaccine was the first on the market in the US to receive full approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Nasal spray vaccines are also currently in the works from pharma companies, and countries such as Israel have also approved trials for an oral Covid-19 vaccine.

Pfizer has been racing competitors including Merck and Roche Holding to develop an oral antiviral pill. Currently, Gilead Sciences' remdesivir is the only antiviral treatment for Covid-19 that is approved in the US.

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