WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The United States announced Thursday it is devoting more than $3 billion to advance the development of antiviral pills for COVID-19.
The pills, which would be used to minimize symptoms after infection, are in development and could begin arriving by year’s end, pending the completion of clinical trials.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, announced the investment during a White House briefing as part of a new “antiviral program for pandemics” to develop drugs to address symptoms caused by potentially dangerous viruses like the coronavirus.
“Vaccines remain the centerpiece of our arsenal against COVID-19,” Fauci said. “However, antivirals can and are an important complement to existing vaccines especially for individuals with certain conditions that might put them at a greater risk and for those who vaccines might not be as protective.”
Fauci said the new program would invest in “accelerating things that are already in progress” for COVID-19, but also work to innovate new therapies for other viruses.
To date 64.7% of the adult U.S. population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 141.5 million are fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
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The U.S. has approved one antiviral drug, remdesivir, specifically for COVID-19, and allowed emergency use of three antibody combinations that help the immune system fight the virus. But all the drugs have to given by IV at hospitals or medical clinics, and demand has been low due to these logistical hurdles.
Health experts have increasingly called for a convenient pill that patients could take themselves when symptoms first appear. Some drugmakers are testing such medications, but initial results aren’t expected for several more months. The new funds will speed those tests and support private sector research, development and manufacturing.
Last week, the U.S. said it would purchase 1.7 million doses of an experimental antiviral pill from Merck, if it is shown to be safe and effective. Results from a large study of the drug, molnupiravir, are expected this fall. Early research suggests the drug may reduce the risk of hospitalization if used shortly after infection by stopping the coronavirus from quickly reproducing. It did not benefit patients who were already hospitalized with severe disease.
Several other companies, including Pfizer, Roche and AstraZeneca, are also testing antiviral pills.
The currently available drugs have mostly been shown to help patients avoid hospitalization or shorten their recovery time by several days.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.