Britain will expand access to Pfizer’s oral antiviral Covid-19 treatment to thousands more people by adding it to a trial to assess how best to use the drug in its highly vaccinated population, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
Paxlovid, a combination of Pfizer’s new pill with an older antiviral ritonavir, was made available to thousands of people with compromised immune systems in Britain in February.
Now Paxlovid is being added to the Panoramic national study in England, which is making antivirals available to a wide number of patients while collecting data on how the drugs should best be used in a vaccinated adult population.
Paxlovid was shown to reduce the relative risk of death or hospitalisation by nearly 90% in clinical trials of high risk individuals given the treatment for five days. Currently it is advised to be taken during the early stages of Covid, though last month was added to another trial for hospitalised patients.
Britain has reported 170,000 deaths from Covid-19, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has cited antivirals as part of his plan to learn to live with the virus, saying they can cut deaths among those who do not benefit as much from vaccine protection, such as the immunosuppressed.
“As we learn to live with Covid, the UK continues to lead the way in using cutting-edge treatments which have already saved the lives of many of the country’s most vulnerable patients,” health minister Sajid Javid said in a statement.
The Panoramic study is open to adults over age 50, or those aged between 18 and 49 who have underlying health conditions that may put them at higher risk for severe Covid.
Paxlovid is the second antiviral to be added to the trial after molnupiravir, a pill made by Merck & Co and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics that did not perform as well in its pivotal clinical trial.
The health ministry said that 20,000 people had joined the Panoramic study to generate data on molnupiravir, with a further 17,500 people to be enrolled to access Paxlovid.