Treating COVID-19 could become much simpler in the near future. The next generation of treatments could come in the form of pills, nasal sprays, or inhalers, as opposed to the current ways the virus is being treated which are expensive and inaccessible injections and other medical procedures.
Recently, Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics announced that their antiviral pill was found to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death among adults with mild to moderate COVID-19.
The companies said they would ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorize the pill for emergency use as soon as possible.
So far, the FDA has fully approved just one treatment for COVID-19: which is the antiviral drug Remdesivir, which has been shown to shorten the recovery time of hospitalized patients. This is administered via injection.
Pills or sprays, however, could make it easier for people to treat COVID-19 symptoms right away, perhaps without needing to visit hospitals. Merck’s antiviral drug, Molnupiravir, was originally developed as a treatment for the flu. Now it’s being evaluated for mild to moderate COVID-19 in a study of nearly 1,900 volunteers.
Right now, several companies are developing antiviral drugs called nucleosides, which try to block the virus from replicating inside cells. Two other companies, Roche and Atea Pharmaceuticals, are also jointly developing a nucleoside in pill form. Other companies are developing antiviral pills called protease inhibitors, which target an enzyme involved in the viral replication process.
Pfizer is testing such a drug in combination with a low dose of another antiviral that slows the breakdown of Pfizer’s drug so it lasts longer in the body. The company kicked off a 3,000-person study in July and hopes to get data before the end of 2021.
Aside from pills, nasal sprays are also set to make COVID-19 treatments easier. Because the coronavirus first invades the body through the nose, eyes, and throat, nasal sprays, could kill or weaken the virus in the upper airways before it spreads to the lungs, where it’s likely to cause the most damage.
A couple of inhaled COVID-19 medicines are also showing promise, though more research is needed. According to research from Synairgen, inhalers were found to boost the odds of improvement and lead to quicker recovery times relative to patients who received a placebo. Synairgen expects results from a late-stage study in hospitalized patients in early 2022.