By PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek @

Merck is preparing a COVID treatment in pill form with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics that could cut hospitalizations and deaths from COVID by 50%. Timothy Annett and Emma Court report for Bloomberg:

Merck & Co. shares posted their biggest gain in 12 years after the company’s experimental pill slashed the risk of getting seriously ill or dying from Covid-19 in a study, findings that could eventually yield a simple way to treat many virus patients before they ever reach the hospital.

The drug, known as molnupiravir, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 50% in an interim analysis of a late-stage clinical trial, Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP said in a statement on Friday.

The study results were so encouraging that Merck and closely held Ridgeback, in consultation with independent trial monitors and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, elected to stop enrolling patients and begin the process of gaining regulatory clearance.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled with the results,” Merck Chief Executive Officer Rob Davis said in an interview. “You don’t have to go to the hospital, you don’t have to go to a center to have it infused. It’s a pill you can take at home.”

Merck rose as much as 12% in New York trading, its biggest intraday gain since March 13, 2009.

The companies now plan to seek an emergency-use authorization from the FDA as quickly as possible, Davis said.

If the medication reaches the market, it would mark an important milestone in the pandemic. While there are several drugs available to treat Covid-19, they can be either cumbersome to give to patients, or intended for use in only the most seriously ill.

So far, no easy-to-use option has been available for people who are infected but not yet sick enough to need hospital care. That has left many caregivers with a difficult choice: send infected people home to try to ride out their illness and risk getting worse, or admit more patients to what are often already-crowded intensive-care units.

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