NEW YORK--Pfizer Inc's experimental antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 cut by 89% the chance of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of severe disease, the company said on Friday, as its CEO vowed to make this promising new weapon in the fight against the pandemic available globally as quickly as possible.
The trial's results suggest that Pfizer's drug surpasses Merck & Co Inc's pill, molnupiravir, which was shown last month to halve the chance of dying or being hospitalized for COVID-19 patients at high risk of serious illness.
Pfizer's pill, with the brand name Paxlovid, could secure U.S. regulatory approval by the end of the year. Pfizer said it plans to submit interim trial results to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before the Nov. 25 U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. The trial was stopped early due to its high success rate.
President Joe Biden said the U.S. government has secured millions of doses of Pfizer's drug. "If authorized by the FDA we may soon have pills that treat the virus in those who become infected," Biden said. "The therapy would be another tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID."
Shares in Pfizer, which also makes one of the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines, rose 11% to close at $48.61. Merck's fell 10% to close at $81.61. Shares of vaccine makers took a hit, with Moderna Inc, Pfizer's German partner BioNTech SE and Novavax all down 11-21%.
Pfizer's pill is given in combination with an older antiviral called ritonavir. The treatment consists of three pills given twice daily. It has been in development for nearly two years.
The Pfizer and Merck pills are eagerly anticipated, with only limited options currently available for treating people sick with COVID-19. Full trial data is not yet available from either company.
Pfizer is in active discussions with 90 countries over supply contracts for its pill, Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said in an interview. "Our goal is that everyone in the world would be able to have it as quickly as possible," Bourla said.
Bourla added that for high-income countries Pfizer expects to price its treatment close to where Merck has priced its drug. Merck's U.S. contract price is around $700 for a five-day course of therapy. For low-income countries, Bourla said Pfizer is considering several options, with the goal of "no barrier for them as well to have access."