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Pfizer's COVID-19 oral pill to be effective against omicron variant, CEO tells CNBC

By Arghyadeep on Nov 30, 2021 | 02:30 AM IST

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• Pfizer CEO Bourla said he has a “very high level of confidence” that the company’s COVID-19 oral pill is effective against the omicron variant

• Bourla said Pfizer has already started work on a new vaccine, and it could be ready in less than 100 days

Pfizer Inc CEO Albert Bourla on Monday said he expects the drugmaker’s COVID-19 oral antiviral pill, Paxlovid, to be effective against the omicron variant of the virus.

“The good news when it comes to our treatment, it was designed with that in mind, it was designed with the fact that most mutations are coming in the spikes,” Bourla told CNBC. “So that gives me very high level of confidence that the treatment will not be affected, our oral treatment will not be affected by this virus.”

Earlier this month, Pfizer submitted its application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization of the pill.

Oral antiviral pill for COVID-19

In a clinical trial conducted on 1,219 adults, Pfizer found the pill reduces hospitalization and death by 89% when taken with a widely used HIV drug within three days of the start of symptoms.

Paxlovid is a protease inhibitor, a type of medicine class, which works by inhibiting an enzyme the virus needs to replicate in human cells. It is used in combination with the HIV drug ritonavir, which slows the human metabolism to allow the drug to remain active in the body longer at a higher concentration to combat the virus.

Also Read: Pfizer says COVID-19 pill is 89% effective in interim assessment, if co-administered with HIV drug

Bourla told CNBC that Pfizer now expects to manufacture 80 million courses of the pill, which the company earlier said to produce 50 million courses.

The Biden administration has already bought 10 million courses of Paxlovid in a $5 billion deal.

Omicron variant

On Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO), in a technical paper, warned omicron poses a “very high” global risk with a high probability of further transmission.

The variant has more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that binds to human cells, and some of the mutations are associated with a decrease in antibody protection, WHO said.

Also Read: Dissecting the latest coronavirus variant threat — Omicron

While Bourla was optimistic about the efficacy of Paxlovid, he said the impact of omicron on the company’s two-dose vaccine remains to be seen.

“I don’t think that the result will be the vaccines don’t protect,” Bourla told CNBC. “I think the result could be, which we don’t know yet, the vaccines protect less.”

Bourla said the drugmaker has already begun the initial groundwork to manufacture a new vaccine if necessary. The company made its first DNA template on Friday, the initial step in the development process, the CEO mentioned.

“We have made multiple times clear that we would be able to have the vaccine in less than 100 days,” Bourla told CNBC and mentioned that the company was able to develop vaccines for the beta and delta variants quickly. However, they ultimately chose not to as the original shots remained effective.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Magazine

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