Pharmaceutical company Merck will apply for emergency use authorization for a pill that may be the first to treat COVID-19, according to experiment results released by the company on Friday.

Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics tracked 775 adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms who were considered to be at higher risk for severe disease due to health problems. The adults who took Merck's molnupiravir pill within five days of showing COVID-19 symptoms experienced about half the rate of hospitalization and death compared to patients who received a placebo, according to the company's research.

"With these compelling results, we are optimistic that molnupiravir can become an important medicine as part of the global effort to fight the pandemic and will add to Merck’s unique legacy of bringing forward breakthroughs in infectious diseases when they are needed most," Robert Davis, Merck's chief executive officer and president, said in a statement released Friday. "Consistent with Merck’s unwavering commitment to save and improve lives, we will continue to work with regulatory agencies on our applications and do everything we can to bring molnupiravir to patients as quickly as possible."


The research required patients to take the molnupiravir pill twice a day for five days. Results showed 7.3% of patients who took molnupiravir were hospitalized through day 29, while 14.1% of patients taking the dummy pill were either hospitalized or died. Additionally, molnupiravir demonstrated effectiveness against the gamma, delta, and mu variants.

While Merck did not report which adverse events resulted from patients taking the pills, 35% of those in the group who received the molnupiravir group reported adverse events, compared with 40% in the placebo group.

If the pill is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Merck will supply approximately 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir to the government. The company added that it has entered into supply and purchase agreements for molnupiravir with other governments worldwide pending regulatory authorizations.


Three COVID-19 vaccines earned emergency use authorizations in recent months, though the two-shot Pfizer vaccine was later granted full approval from the Food and Drug Administration in August. Pfizer announced Monday that it started large-scale studies testing an oral antiviral drug for the prevention of COVID-19.

COVID-19 cases in the United States have decreased in recent weeks. The current seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is 121,533, compared to the previous seven-day average of 146,684, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.