New COVID-19 Antivirals a welcome development

Date published: 20 October 2021

Health Minister Robin Swann welcomes the announcement that two new COVID-19 antivirals could be available this winter.

Thousands of vulnerable patients could be taking ground-breaking COVID-19 antivirals this winter after the government announced deals to secure two new treatments.  Before the antivirals can be authorised, they first need to be evaluated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), to ensure they meet the regulator’s high standards of quality, safety and effectiveness. 

The Minister said: “I am delighted by the announcement of two new COVID-19 antivirals.  These treatments will help reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and ease pressure on our health and social care system over the winter.  We have continually been seeking new ways to tackle this virus and protect our most vulnerable.  Adding an additional two new treatments to those previously brought on board provides us with an ever greater suite of measures at our disposal.” 

The two antivirals are:

·         Molnupiravir - from company Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD), of which the government has initially secured 480,000 courses. It has proven in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for at-risk non-hospitalised adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 by 50%; and

·         PF-07321332/ritonavir - from company Pfizer, of which the government has initially secured 250,000 courses. Three phase 2/3 trials are currently underway

The deals made by the Antivirals Taskforce is a significant step in its ambition to secure at least two new effective treatments by the end of the year for those who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with the virus. 

Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “This is another important step in the treatment of COVID-19, one which has the potential to significantly ease symptoms in those infected.  Antivirals are used to either treat those infected with a virus or protect exposed individuals from becoming infected. They target the virus at an early stage, preventing progression to more severe, or even critical, symptoms, and minimising the risk of Long-COVID.  Work is now ongoing in preparation for the deployment of the treatments, including the delivery of a national study.  This will enable us to gather data on the possible benefits for patients and hopefully deliver these antivirals to patients as soon as is reasonable practical.” 

Concluding the Minister said: “We will continue to work to secure more innovative treatments so we can protect as many people as possible from the virus and its variants.  Whilst these treatments can ease the symptoms the vaccination programme remains the most effective way to prevent from becoming infected.  Community Pharmacies across Northern Ireland continue to offer the COVID-19 vaccine and I encourage anyone who has not yet go the jab to do so.  We are facing into a very challenging and uncertain winter and we all must do what we can to ease the pressures expected on our HSC.”

Notes to editors: 

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