Anti-COVID pill could be ‘great additional asset’ if approved, UH chief medical officer says

Dr. Bryan Alsip hearing ‘encouraging, positive’ results about antiviral pill by Merck

SAN ANTONIO – Having the first oral medication to treat COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms but at risk of severe disease would be “a great additional asset,” said Dr. Bryan Alsip, University Health chief medical officer.

Produced by Merck and its partner, Ridgeback Biotherapeutic, Molnupiravir would be the first anti-viral medication against COVID-19 if granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A decision is expected in a matter of weeks.

Alsip said at this point, what he most wants to know is which patient population would be best treated by the new medication.

“We want to probably make sure the recommendations align with that,” he said.

Alsip said if it’s used on patients who don’t need it, they could risk possibly having bad side effects.

Also, if there’s a limited supply, Alsip said, “Maximize the effect that’s intended for the most appropriate group of patients.”

Alsip said Molnupiravir’s “mechanism of action” interferes with the virus’ ability to replicate, creating possible mutations.

“It does so somehow by inserting errors into the viral genetic code,” Alsip said.

For instance, he said, “Pregnant people, as we know, are at very high risk for COVID, but they may not be eligible to receive this pill if that is truly the mechanism of action.”

But Alsip said there is more data to come as the oral medication is studied even further before the FDA decides to grant emergency use authorization.

“We’ll learn more information about the medication, the data and what they end up recommending for its use,” he said.

Alsip said vaccines remain the best way to prevent COVID-19, but in addition to Merck being the first to have an oral medication, other drug companies are developing medications as well.

“That will help, too, if there is a supply issue,” he said. “So, we’ll have more choices.”

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About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.