Australia secures 300,000 courses of COVID antiviral

Matt Woodley

5/10/2021 3:43:09 PM

The supply agreement could mean molnupiravir is being used to treat COVID-19 by early 2022, provided it is approved by the TGA.

Molnupiravir pill
Molnupiravir is said to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death due to COVID by up to 50%.

The deal was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison only days after the medication’s developer, Merck, released results indicating that the oral antiviral could significantly reduce the risk of severe illness.
If approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), molnupiravir will become the third antiviral used to treat COVID in Australia, following the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce’s June 2020 remdesivir recommendation and recent adoption of monoclonal antibody treatment sotrovimab.
However, while remdesivir has attracted some criticism over its cost and apparent modest efficacy, it is hoped molnupiravir could reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death by up to 50%.
No details were provided on the cost of the supply agreement, but Prime Minister Morrison said the acquisition will ‘boost’ Australia’s national plan to reopen once vaccination targets are met.
‘While our vaccination rate continues to climb, we’ve been investing in and closely monitoring research into COVID-19 treatments and we are securing supply of promising treatments,’ he said.
‘If the medical experts at the TGA approve this treatment for use, it will join other COVID-19 treatments such as sotrovimab and remdesivir, which are already available to Australian doctors to help treat those with COVID-19.’
The new deal was revealed a day after Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed 15,000 additional doses of monoclonal antibody treatment sotrovimab had arrived on Australia’s shores, bringing the total number secured so far to 31,000.
However, while sotrovimab has been shown to reduce hospitalisation or death by 79% in adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 at high risk of progression to severe disease, its intravenous administration means its use may not be feasible in rural and remote parts of the country.
By contrast, molnupiravir is taken orally twice a day for five days and does not need to be refrigerated.
Minister Hunt has said the TGA is allowing safety and efficacy data on COVID-19 treatments to be provided as it becomes available to allow for early approval in Australia. However, he stressed that vaccination remains ‘the most important and safest way for Australians to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19’.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton also welcomed the news, but similarly cautioned that it is no substitute for vaccination.
‘That is a really important intervention that could be part of a new class of drugs, antiviral drugs, that really change the face [of illness],’ he told reporters in Melbourne.
‘Antivirals are great if you are developing illness regardless, but getting vaccinated will be 10, 20, 50 times more powerful an intervention in preventing severe illness than any antiviral that’s currently available’.
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