The Israeli Ministry of Health has not yet begun negotiations with Pfizer to buy its experimental antiviral COVID-19 pill, according to Hebrew media reports on Saturday night, when the US drug manufacturer said it was engaged in “active discussion” with 90 countries regarding coronavirus medicine.
The Ministry of Health said that it will soon establish contact with Pfizer to start talks about buying the pill. Israel’s successful coronavirus vaccination campaign was largely the result of the first contracts with Pfizer-BioNTech for mass vaccination. However, with Israel’s high vaccination rates, it is still unclear how urgent the immediate need for COVID medicine is.
In a speech to 1[ads1]03FM radio on Sunday morning, Director General Nachman Ash of the Ministry of Health said that the drug “sounds promising”, but stressed that “we must learn about its effectiveness, side effects and costs.”
He said a decision would be made after the full results of the trial were published, predicting that Israel’s good relations with Pfizer would help us bring the drug quickly.
Pfizer chief Albert Bourla said on Friday that some countries have already signed contracts for the medicine.
“We are in discussions with 90 governments around the world right now, active discussion, and some of them have already been signed,” Bourla said.
Pfizer Inc. said on Friday that its experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 reduced the number of hospitalizations and deaths by almost 90% as the drug maker joins the fight to bring the first user-friendly coronavirus medicine to the global market.
Currently, all COVID-19 treatments used in the United States require an IV or injection. Competitor Merck’s COVID-19 pill is already under review by the Food and Drug Administration after showing strong initial results, and on Thursday the UK became the first country to OK it.
Pfizer said it would ask the FDA and international regulators to approve the pill as soon as possible, after independent experts recommended stopping the company’s study based on the strength of the results. When Pfizer applies, the FDA can make a decision within weeks or months.
Researchers around the world have struggled to find a COVID-19 pill that can be taken at home to relieve symptoms, speed up recovery and reduce the crushing burden on hospitals and doctors.
On Friday, Pfizer announced preliminary results of its study of 775 adults. Patients taking the company’s drug with another antiviral drug had an 89% reduction in the combined frequency of hospitalization or death after one month, compared with patients taking a dummy pill. Less than 1% of the patients who took the drug had to be hospitalized, and no one died. In the comparison group, 7% were hospitalized and there were seven deaths.
“We hoped we had something extraordinary, but you rarely see good drugs come through with almost 90% efficacy and 100% protection against death,” said Dr. Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, in an interview.
Study participants were unvaccinated, with mild to moderate COVID-19, and were considered at high risk for hospitalization due to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. Treatment started within three to five days after the first symptoms, and lasted for five days.
Pfizer reported few details on side effects, but said the frequency of problems was similar between the groups of around 20%.
An independent group of medical experts overseeing the study recommended stopping the early, standard procedure when preliminary results show such a clear benefit. The data have not yet been published for external review, the normal process for examining new medical research.
Top US health authorities continue to emphasize that vaccination will continue to be the best way to protect against infection. But with tens of millions of adults still unvaccinated – and many more globally – effective, user-friendly treatments will be crucial in curbing future waves of infection.
The FDA has set up a public meeting later this month to evaluate Merck’s pill, known as molnupiravir. The company reported in September that the drug reduced the number of hospitalizations and deaths by 50%. Experts warn against comparing preliminary results due to differences in studies.
Although Merck’s pill is further along in the US regulatory process, Pfizer’s drug may benefit from a safety profile that is better known to regulators with fewer red flags. While pregnant women were excluded from the Merck study due to a potential risk of birth defects, Pfizer’s drug had no similar restrictions. Merck medicine works by disrupting the coronavirus’s genetic code, a new approach to disrupting the virus.
Pfizer’s drug is part of a decades-old family of antiviral drugs known as protease inhibitors, which revolutionized the treatment of HIV and hepatitis C. The drugs block a key enzyme that viruses need to multiply in the human body.
The drug, which has not yet been named, was first identified during the SARS outbreak originating in Asia in 2003. Last year, the company’s researchers decided to revive the drug and study it for COVID-19, given the similarities between the two coronaviruses.
The United States has approved another antiviral drug for COVID-19, remdesivir, and authorized three antibody therapies that help the immune system fight the virus. However, they must be given by IV or injection in hospitals or clinics, and limited supplies were strained by the recent increase in the delta variant.