Pfizer's $1billion bet on its Covid-19 antiviral pill

Trials by the company showed Paxlovid cut deaths and hospitalisation in patients by 89 per cent


Allan Jacob

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Photo: File
Photo: File

Published: Sun 14 Nov 2021, 3:01 PM

Pharma major Pfizer is investing up to a $1 billion for the production and distribution of its new oral antiviral pill that will be sold under the brand name Paxlovid (PF- 07321332), a senior company official told Khaleej Times.

A month after Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) came out with its oral Covid anti-viral pill Molnupiravir, Pfizer’s studies show its drug appears to be more effective against the coronavirus.

Trials by the company showed Paxlovid cut deaths and hospitalisation in patients by 89 per cent soon after symptoms appear, while Molnupiravir showed 50 per cent reduction in the number of fatalities and severe infection.

Pfizer has entered into advance purchase agreements with multiple countries and is in negotiations with several others. The pharma giant whose MRNA vaccine is the most widely used in the world did not reveal if it is in talks with the UAE but said its oral anti-viral would be made affordable in low-income countries.

Vaccine inequity has been a bone of contention between rich and poor nations, but Pfizer said its antiviral Paxlovid (PF-07321332, that is given in combination with another drug Ritonavir) would be offered based on the income level of each country. ``High and upper-middle income will pay more than lower-income countries,’’ said Dr Yasser El Dershaby, Pfizer’s Medical Affairs Lead for Africa and the Middle East region.

The UK has already ordered 250,000 doses of the candidate drug at an undisclosed price according to reports. It has also ordered 450,000 courses of the MSD antiviral.

The pharma major is investing up to $1 billion to support the manufacturing and distribution of this treatment, said the Pfizer official.

It is exploring potential contract manufacturing options to ensure access for the drug in developing countries, pending regulatory approvals.

"This is real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic. These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved by authorities, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of Covid-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of then hospitalisations,’’ said Dr El Dershaby.

Origins of the drug

He said both vaccination and targeted treatment for those who contract the virus would end the pandemic. The PF-07321332 and Ritonavir combination from Pfizer is the first orally administered protease inhibitor drug against Covid-19.

Protease inhibitors are a class of drugs that prevent viral replication which slows or halts infection from the disease. These drugs are administered to treat HIV and Hepatitis C.


The origins of this Pfizer antiviral could be traced to the 2003 Sars outbreak in Southeast Asia during which the company developed formulations that were in pre-clinical trials.

One of the drugs showed potential against Covid-19, so the company redesigned the drug as a pill to stop a specific protease used by Sars-CoV-2 and named it PF-07321332.

Studies were done on adults aged 18 or older. The company is yet to conduct tests on children, Dr Yasser El Dershaby said.

The candidate drug is given twice a day for five days. Pfizer will complete two more studies on the pill by the end of the year and will submit data to the US FDA. –

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