- An experimental pill under development by Atea Pharmaceuticals and Roche helped curb viral loads in hospitalized patients with coronavirus infections, according to interim results from a Phase 2 trial.
- The drug, AT-527, rapidly reduced the amount of virus in patients’ blood, Atea said Wednesday. Researchers also found a significantly higher portion of the patients who randomly received AT-527 in the study had no detectable virus at various timepoints, compared with those on placebo.
- Atea and Roche have yet to prove, however, whether their drug can help alleviate symptoms of COVID-19 or prevent the disease's worst health outcomes — the main goals for each of the coronavirus antivirals in development. Those answers could come soon, though, as the two are testing the drug in a larger Phase 3 study called MORNINGSKY and expect to release results from that trial and additional mid-stage research later this year.
AT-527’s success in curbing coronavirus levels in the body is a promising first step for the collaboration between Atea and Roche, which began last October. Executives said they are hopeful that further study will show the pill can help patients suffering from coronavirus disease recover faster while making them less contagious to others.
The current Phase 2 study focuses on adults with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 who are at higher risk for complications because of conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension. The interim analysis included virus-level testing in 62 patients. Researchers were also focused on the tolerability of the drug and found no safety concerns, Atea said.
While vaccine makers have had astounding success in quickly getting effective COVID-19 inoculations to market, there’s still a significant need for treatments for the disease, especially in the form of an easy-to-take pill. Antibody medications from Regeneron, Eli Lilly and Vir Biotechnology require an infusion or injection, as does Gilead’s antiviral drug Veklury.
The U.S. government this month moved to help speed the development of oral medicines to fight COVID-19, announcing plans to spend more than $3 billion on research and manufacturing. A pill that could be taken at home would be a "powerful" tool against the pandemic, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said at the time.
Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics are the furthest along in the quest for a COVID-19 pill. Their drug, molnupiravir, is in late-stage testing and has already won a $1.2 billion purchase agreement from the U.S. government if it wins regulatory approval.
Pfizer is also developing an oral option, which CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC in April could be available by the end of the year.
Smaller companies are getting into the act, too. Pardes Biosciences, a biotech developing its own COVID-19 pill, this week announced lans to go public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. The deal is backed by institutional and strategic healthcare investors, including the drugmaking giant Gilead.