Paxlovid, a Pfizer’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pill, is seen manufactured in Ascoli, Italy, in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on November 16, 2021.
Pfizer | Handout | via Reuters
President Joe Biden on Thursday said the U.S. has bought 10 million courses of Pfizer‘s Covid treatment pill, an oral antiviral medication that was highly effective in preventing hospitalization among high-risk adults in a clinical trial.
The pill, Paxlovid, could fundamentally change the fight against the virus, providing physicians with a drug that patients can take at home after infection. A highly effective at-home treatment could help reduce the stress that hospitals have faced throughout the pandemic, particularly during the recent wave of delta infections.
“My administration is making the necessary preparations now to ensure these treatments will be easily accessible and free,” Biden said in a statement. “This is positive news. This treatment could prove to be another critical tool in our arsenal that will accelerate our path out of the pandemic.”
Biden said delivery of the pills will start at the end of this year and continue through 2022.
Pfizer said Thursday that it would receive $5.29 billion from the U.S. government, contingent on authorization of the pill by the Food and Drug Administration.
Pfizer on Tuesday submitted its application for the FDA to grant emergency authorization for the pill. Paxlovid is taken in combination with a widely used HIV drug, ritonavir.
In a clinical trial of adults age 18 and over who were more susceptible to contracting severe Covid, Paxlovid demonstrated 89% efficacy in preventing hospitalization and death when taken within three days of symptom onset, according to Pfizer.
Paxlovid blocks the activity of an enzyme that the virus needs to replicate. The HIV drug, ritonavir, slows the patient’s metabolism, allowing the drug to remain in the body at a higher concentration for a longer period to fight the virus.
Physicians have few options to treat Covid patients. Gilead‘s antiviral drug, remdesivir, is primarily used to treat patients who are already hospitalized, while monoclonal antibody treatments are expensive.
Though Paxlovid is promising, supplies are likely to be tight. Pfizer has said it plans to manufacture 180,000 courses next month and ramp up production to 50 million courses by the end of 2022.
Pfizer agreed this week to allow generic drug manufacturers to produce the pill and supply it to 95 low- and middle-income countries. The drug company is waiving royalties for low-income countries and will do the same for all other nations covered by the agreement as long as the World Health Organization classifies Covid as an international health emergency.