UK becomes first country to approve Merck's COVID-19 pill
The first at-home pill to treat COVID-19 has been approved by Britain's medicines watchdog.
Antiviral molnupiravir was shown in clinical trials to slash the risk of hospitalisation by half in vulnerable and elderly patients.
The tablet, which will be sold under the brand name Lagevrio, will be given twice a day to people within a week of testing positive.
It will be targeted at those who are considered high risk, including Britons over the age of 60, or patients with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or other comorbidities.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said the treatment was a 'gamechanger' for the most frail and immunosuppressed, who are vulnerable to Covid even when vaccinated.
The UK has bought 480,000 doses of molnupiravir at a cost thought to be in the region of £250million.
Announcing its approval today, the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said the drug was safe and effective
Molnupiravir, made by pharmaceutical giant Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, works by blocking the virus from replicating in the body.
The MHRA said the drug should be taken as soon as possible following a positive Covid test and within the first five days.
Officials did not disclose how much the Department of Health paid but American health chiefs spent $1.2billion (£869million) on 1.7million molnupiravir pills this summer.
If the drugs are priced the same in Britain they are likely to cost around £250million even though they are thought to cost just £12 to make.
Mr Javid said, "Today is a historic day for our country, as the UK is now the first country in the world to approve an anti-viral that can be taken at home for Covid-19.
"This will be a gamechanger for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the ground-breaking treatment.
"We are working at pace across the Government and with the NHS to set out plans to deploy molnupiravir to patients through a national study as soon as possible
"This antiviral will be an excellent addition to our armoury against Covid-19, and it remains vital everyone comes forward for their life-saving Covid-19 vaccine - particularly those eligible for a booster - to ensure as many people as possible are protected over the coming months."