Pfizer says its antiviral pill slashes risk of severe COVID-19 by 89 percent

Pfizer announced Friday it will soon ask the US Food and Drug Administration and international regulators to authorize its pill, which is taken twice a day for five days. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 05 November 2021

Pfizer says its antiviral pill slashes risk of severe COVID-19 by 89 percent

  • Pfizer's pill, with the brand name Paxlovid, could secure U.S. regulatory approval by the end of the year
  • President Joe Biden said the U.S. government has secured millions of doses of the Pfizer drug

DUBAI: Pfizer Inc’s experimental antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 was shown to cut by 89 percent the chances of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of developing severe disease, the company said on Friday.
It also comes as an offer to what could be a promising new weapon in the fight against the pandemic.
The trial’s results suggest that the oral drug surpasses Merck & Co. Inc’s pill, molnupiravir, which was shown last month to halve the risk 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 US regulatory approval by the end of the year. The Pfizer trial was stopped early due to its high success rate. Full trial data is not yet available from either company.
President Joe Biden said the US government has secured millions of doses of the Pfizer 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 mostly widely used COVID-19 vaccines, were up 9 percent to $47.82, while Merck’s were down 9.3 percent to $82.09. Shares of vaccine makers took a hit, with Moderna Inc, Pfizer’s German partner BioNTech SE and Novavax all down 13-21 percent.
The 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.
Pfizer is in discussions with 90 countries over supply contracts for its pill, Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said in an interview.
Bourla said Pfizer expects to price its treatment close to where Merck has priced its pill. Merck’s US contract price for its pill is around $700 for a five-day course of therapy.
Even with the potential offered by the Pfizer and Merck pills, preventing COVID-19 infections through broad use of vaccines remains the best way to control a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people worldwide, including more than 750,000 in the United States, according to infectious disease experts.
“Vaccines are going to be the most effective and reliable tool that we have in this pandemic,” said Dr. Grace Lee, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. “These oral medications are going to augment our ability to really reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death, which is huge, but it won’t prevent infection.”
While more than 7 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, that has covered only about half the world’s people. In the United States, 58 percent of all people, including 70 percent of adults, are fully vaccinated. There are more than 400,000 new COVID-19 cases daily worldwide, with infections rising in 50 countries.
Mizuho analyst Vamil Divan forecast a “very minor impact” from the Pfizer drug on vaccination among people who do not want the vaccine or a booster shot as recommended by US health regulators.
“I think there’s a small percentage of people that may decide not to get vaccinated, now that there are good treatment options,” Divan said.
Pfizer said it plans to submit interim trial results for its pill to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before the US Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 25.
The company said it expects to manufacture 180,000 treatment courses by the end of this year and at least 50 million courses by the end of next year, including 21 million in the first half of 2022.
Antivirals need to be given as early as possible, before an infection takes hold, to be most effective.
The planned analysis of 1,219 patients in Pfizer’s study examined hospitalizations or deaths among people diagnosed with mild to moderate COVID-19 with at least one risk factor for developing severe disease, such as obesity or older age.
Among those given Pfizer’s drug within three days of symptom onset, the pill lowered the chances of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of developing severe COVID-19 by 89 percent compared to patients who received a placebo. Among these patients, 0.8 percent were hospitalized and none died by 28 days after treatment, compared to a 7 percent hospitalization rate and seven deaths in the placebo group.
Rates were similar for patients treated within five days of symptoms: 1 percent of the treatment group was hospitalized, compared to 6.7 percent for the placebo group, which included 10 deaths. Pfizer said that works out to being 85 percent effective at preventing hospitalization or death.
An FDA panel of outside experts is scheduled to meet Nov. 30 to discuss Merck’s pill, which was approved by British regulators https://www.reuters.com/business/health care-pharmaceuticals/britain-approves-mercks-oral-covid-19-pill-2021-11-04 in a world first on Thursday. Pfizer said it did not know if Paxlovid would be reviewed at that meeting.
Pfizer did not detail side any effects but said adverse events happened in about 20 percent of both treatment and placebo patients. Possible side effects include nausea and diarrhea.
Pfizer is holding discussions about a license for generic manufacturing of the pill for low-income countries, Unitaid’s Medicines Patent Pool said in a statement.


Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed

Updated 4 sec ago

Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed

NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of A.G. Perarivalan, who was convicted of involvement in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Gandhi was killed by an ethnic Tamil suicide bomber while campaigning in an election in the southern Indian town of Sriperumbudur in May 1991. His killing was seen as an act of retaliation after he sent Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka in 1987.
Perarivalan was convicted in 1991 of purchasing the batteries used to detonate the bomb that killed Gandhi.
In May 2021, the Tamil Nadu state government allowed Perarivalan to leave on parole, using a provision in the Tamil Nadu Prison manual.
The Supreme Court took a lenient view of Perarivalan, saying he was 19 years old at the time of arrest and had been jailed for over 30 years, including 16 years on death row and 29 years in solitary confinement.
Speaking to the Indian Express newspaper on Wednesday, Perarivalan recalled years spent in a cramped 6 feet (1.8 m) by 9 feet (2.7 m) cell during his time in solitary confinement.
“A room in which I had nothing but empty walls to look at,” he said, describing obsessively counting bricks on the wall, measuring the door and bolts and imagining smells he craved.
Six others people, including a woman, are still in jail and are awaiting a verdict in the case.
The court said Perarivalan was released after considering his “satisfactory conduct in jail and during parole” and “chronic ailments.”
Gandhi’s widow, Sonia, is head of India’s main opposition Congress party while their son, Rahul, has been leading its campaign for elections. A Congress party spokesman said on Wednesday the party was deeply saddened by the court’s decision.
Many in the state of Tamil Nadu celebrated the verdict as a victory for human rights.
“My best wishes and warm welcome to Perarivalan who is set to fully breathe the air of liberation after more than 30 years of imprisonment,” Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin tweeted.

Mozambique declares polio outbreak linked to Pakistan

Updated 18 May 2022

Mozambique declares polio outbreak linked to Pakistan

  • The case in Mozambique is the second imported case of polio in southern Africa this year
  • Sequencing indicates the case is linked to a strain of polio spreading in Pakistan in 2019 

JOHANNESBURG: Health authorities in Mozambique declared a polio outbreak Wednesday after confirming that a child in the country’s northeastern Tete province had been paralyzed by the disease.

The case in Mozambique is the second imported case of polio in southern Africa this year, following a case discovered in Malawi in mid-February. It’s the first case of wild polio in Mozambique since 1992, although cases linked to a mutated virus from the oral vaccine were detected in 2019.

The latest case in Mozambique was found in a child who experienced signs of paralysis in late March, according to a statement issued by the World Health Organization.

Sequencing indicates that the case in Mozambique is linked to a strain of polio spreading in Pakistan in 2019, similar to the case reported in Malawi earlier this year.

WHO declared Africa free of the wild polio virus in August 2020 even though numerous countries across the continent have reported outbreaks linked to the vaccine in recent years. There is no difference between the disease caused by the wild virus or the mutated virus from the vaccine.

“The detection of another case of wild poliovirus in Africa is greatly concerning, even if it’s unsurprising given the recent outbreak in Malawi. However, it shows how dangerous this virus is and how quickly it can spread,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s Africa director.

In response to the case in neighboring Malawi, Mozambique recently carried out two mass vaccination campaigns in which 4.2 million children were vaccinated against the disease, said WHO.

Disease surveillance is being strengthened in five countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Vaccination campaigns in the coming weeks are planned to reach 23 million children aged five years and below.

Polio is highly infectious, spread mostly via water and largely affects children younger than five years. There is no cure for polio, and it can only be prevented by immunization. WHO and its partners began an effort to eradicate polio globally in 1988 and have missed numerous deadlines to wipe out the disease. 


Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’

Updated 18 May 2022

Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’

  • The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano
  • She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups

GENEVA: Swiss prosecutors said Wednesday they had indicted a woman for attempted murder on behalf of Daesh group over a brutal knife attack in November 2020.
The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano.
She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups, according to the indictment. She was also charged with unlawful prostitution.
The attorney general’s office said the indictment related to an ‘extremist knife attack’ and the alleged assailant, a Swiss citizen, “intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of Daesh.”
“The suspect acted willfully and with particular ruthlessness. She brutally attacked her randomly-selected victims with a knife, with the aim of killing them and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the ‘Daesh’,” it said.
One of the two victims sustained serious neck injuries while the second victim, with help from others at the scene, managed to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.
The attacker was arrested and detained.
Police quickly discovered she had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.
The woman had formed a relationship on social media with an extremist fighter in Syria and attempted to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, police alleged at the time.
She was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, they said, adding that the woman had suffered from mental health problems and been admitted to a psychiatric clinic.


Hindu groups file fresh petitions to stop Muslims from entering historic Indian mosque

Updated 18 May 2022

Hindu groups file fresh petitions to stop Muslims from entering historic Indian mosque

  • Hindus say court should decide on plea to approve looking for Hindu relics in 17th century mosque
  • Muslims vow to fight legal battles against Hindu groups disrupting sanctity of mosques and tombs

LUCKNOW: Members of hard-line Hindu groups filed petitions in a court in northern India to stop Muslims from entering a historic mosque, until the court decides on an earlier plea seeking approval to look for any Hindu relics which may be on the site, lawyers said on Wednesday.

Judges of a local court in Mathura, a Hindu religious town in Uttar Pradesh (UP) state, allowed the new petitions but have yet start hearings in the 2020 case aimed at securing permission to film and survey inside the 17th century Shahi Eidgah mosque.

“We suspect that Hindu symbols could be removed inside Shahi Eidgah mosque so we want the court to suspend entry of Muslims,” said Mahendra Pratap, a lawyer involved in the case.

This month, another local court in the state allowed a team to inspect and film inside one of the most prominent mosques in Varanasi, an ancient town, also the political constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On Tuesday, the country’s top court overturned a ruling imposed by a Varanasi court to limit large Muslim prayer gatherings in the Gyanvapsi mosque, but allowed the local court to continue proceedings. read more

Members of hard-line Hindu groups tied to Modi’s party believe that Islamic invaders destroyed Hindu temples during their 200-year rule.

“We believe that idols of Hindu gods were lying inside the mosque built after a temple was destroyed by Muslim rulers to prove supremacy,” said Ranjana Agnihotri, a lawyer appearing on behalf of Hindu groups questioning the legitimacy of the Shahi Eidgah mosque in Mathura.

Surveyors involved in the Varanasi case said they found a large relic of the Hindu god Shiva inside the Gyanvapsi mosque, but Muslim groups said that a fountainhead was being misrepresented to stir religious tension.

Reports of idols found inside the mosque have further emboldened Hindu groups in western and southern states to demand searches in other mosques.

Police in Aurangabad city said they had intensified security around the grave of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb after members of MNS, a regional political party, threatened to destroy the tomb, which they believe was anti-Hindu.

The same party recently succeeded in forcing the Maharashtra government to ensure the decibel levels of the Muslim prayer calls were lowered after its leaders threatened to chant Hindu prayers outside mosques. read more

Leaders of Muslim political and religious groups said they will fight legal battles against Hindu groups disrupting the sanctity of mosques and tombs.

“We (Muslims) will not let Hindus insult our faith and our mosques,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, a federal lawmaker and leader of a regional Islamic political party.


Wall collapse at salt factory kills 12 in west India

Updated 18 May 2022

Wall collapse at salt factory kills 12 in west India

  • The workers stocking salt in bags were found buried in the wall debris in the factory
  • The injuries of 13 workers, mostly fractured bones, were not life-threatening

NEW DELHI: A wall collapsed in a salt packaging factory in western India on Wednesday, killing at least 12 workers and injuring another 13, a government administrator said.
The workers stocking salt in bags were found buried in the wall debris in the factory in Morbi district, 215 kilometers (135 miles) west of Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat state, said J.B. Patel, the district officer.
The injuries of 13 workers, mostly fractured bones, were not life-threatening, Patel said.
He also said that the rescue work was almost over. Other details were not immediately available.
Authorities are investigating the cause of the wall collapse.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the deaths as heart-rending. “In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon,” he said.
Building collapses are common in India as many of them are poorly constructed using sub-standard material. A building collapse in 2013 killed at least 72 people in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital.