A pill to cure COVID?

AP Photo/John Locher

Let’s have some good news about the fight against COVID for a change, shall we? And just to sweeten the deal, it doesn’t involve any of the vaccines. There’s currently a race going on to develop and gain FDA approval for antiviral drugs designed to fight off the virus and cure patients in a short period of time. Pfizer and Merck already both have a pill to do that and it’s currently going through clinical trials. Now the Japanese pharmaceutical giant Shionogi (who created the wildly successful Crestor to reduce cholesterol) has announced that they also have a similar pill and it’s already in the first phase of clinical trials. Given the company’s history, it’s easy to imagine that they will also pull this off. As a bonus, none of these pills involve any weird mRNA technology. They are comparing it to Tamiflu, which has had significant success in helping people fighting off the flu. (Wall Street Journal)

A Japanese company has started human trials of the first once-a-day pill for Covid-19 patients, joining Pfizer Inc. PFE +0.43% and Merck MRK -0.45% & Co. in the race to find treatments for the disease.

Osaka-based Shionogi 4507 3.20% & Co., which helped develop the blockbuster cholesterol drug Crestor, said it designed its pill to attack the Covid-19 virus. It said the once-a-day dosing would be more convenient. The company said it is testing the drug and any side effects in trials that began this month and are likely to continue until next year.

Shionogi is months behind Pfizer and Merck, which have started later-stage tests of pills to treat Covid-19. Pfizer has said its twice-daily pill could be ready to hit the market as soon as this year.

We should have known something like this was on the way, but I wasn’t expecting the process to move along this quickly. Of course, after Operation Warp Speed, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at much of anything out of these companies.

Antiviral medication is tougher to develop than antibacterial drugs, which we’ve understood and been dealing with for far longer. But there are antiviral drugs out there already, such as the aforementioned Tamiflu. There are already some drugs out there that have been used to reasonable effect against COVID, such as remdesivir. (I’m assuming we’re now allowed to say that since Trump is out of office, right?) There’s also a similar drug from Regeneron. The problem is that those drugs seem to be hit and miss with COVID and require hospital administration.

If any of these three drugs are approved, the hope is that anyone who tests positive, with either mild symptoms or none at all, can take the pills daily for a week or so and beat back the virus. As a bonus, the report indicates that patients who go through that process would likely still wind up with their own antibodies since their bodies would have been fighting the virus while the pills did their work.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction about how this phase of the COVID wars will be politicized. Somebody on the left is going to complain that these pills will only serve as an “excuse” for those not wishing to be vaccinated to avoid getting a shot even longer. Perhaps so, but my initial response would be “so what?” If an unvaccinated person contracts the virus and their doctor has a way to write them a prescription for a week and they beat the virus and develop antibodies, how is that a bad thing? (Unless, of course, your only real motive is to try to force everyone into compliance with the government’s mandates.)

In any event, this sounds like great news. Now let’s see if Pfizer can somehow manage to get it out onto the market without it costing $1,000 per pill.