The pharmaceutical group, a member of the blue-chip Dow Jones index, and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, which first developed the drug, said early results from a trial of molnupiravir showed that 7.3% of patients on the drug had died or been hospitalised, compared to 14.1% of those receiving a placebo.
This interim analysis therefore indicated that the twice-daily pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by roughly 50%.
The company says it is applying to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorisation to market the pill to treat Covid-19 “as soon as possible”, in what would be the first treatment of its kind.
At the recommendation of an independent data monitoring committee and in consultation with the FDA, recruitment into the study is being stopped early due to these positive results, the companies said.
Merck also plans shortly to apply for marketing applications with other regulatory bodies worldwide.
Molnupiravir, which is named after Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir, was licenced by Ridgeback to Merck, with any profits from the collaboration to be split between the pair equally.