Pfizer said Friday that the easy-to-administer Covid-19 pill, used in conjunction with a commonly used HIV drug, cuts the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in high-risk adults exposed to the virus.
It is now the second antiviral pill behind Merck’s to show strong effectiveness for treating Covid at the first sign of illness. If approved by regulators, it would likely be a game changer in the ongoing global pandemic battle.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC the company plans to file its data with the Food and Drug Administration before Thanksgiving.
“I think this drug is going to change the way things are happening now, that will save millions and millions of lives. It has the potential to do it,” Bourla said in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” He said the company “currently has the capacity of 500 million pills,” which he says translates to 50 million treatments. “Its very high efficacy comes as a surprise even to us, exceeding our most visionary expectations before.”
Shares of the company rose about 8% in morning trading.
Pfizer’s pill, scientifically known as PF-07321332, part of a class of drugs called protease inhibitors, works by inhibiting an enzyme the virus needs to multiply in human cells. Protease inhibitors are used to treat other viral pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis C.
The HIV drug helps slow the metabolism, or breakdown of Pfizer’s Pill, so that it remains active in the body for longer periods of time at higher concentrations, the company said.
The company said its data on the drug is based on a mid- to late-stage study of 1,219 adults with at least one underlying medical condition and a lab-confirmed infection within a five-day period. The participants also received a low dose of ritonavir, a drug commonly used in combination treatments for HIV.
Pfizer said there were six hospitalizations and zero deaths of the 607 trial participants who received the Pill in combination with the HIV drug within five days of the onset of symptoms. That compares to 41 hospitalizations and 10 deaths of the 612 people who received a placebo.
“These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections and eliminate up to nine out of 10 hospitalizations,” said Pfizer. CEO Albert Bourla in a statement.
Unlike Gilead Sciences’ intravenous drug remdesivir, Pfizer and Merck’s drugs can be taken by mouth. While vaccinations remain the best form of protection against the virus, health experts hope that pills such as these will not further develop the disease in those who become infected and prevent hospital visits.
Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said on Oct. 1 that they have developed a drug that, when administered alone, reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by about 50% for patients with mild or moderate cases of Covid.
Merck’s antiviral pill was approved by the UK’s drug regulatory agency on Thursday.
June Raine, chief executive of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said Merck’s Pill will greatly facilitate treatment for Covid, a disease that has killed more than 5 million people worldwide and put enormous strain on health systems.
Bourla told CNBC in April that Pfizer’s pill could be available to Americans by the end of this year.
Rich Mendez of CNBC contributed to this article.