Britain has approved Merck's COVID-19 pill for the first time in the world.

Iran PressEurope: Britain on Thursday became the first country in the world to approve a potentially game-changing COVID-19 antiviral pill jointly developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, in a boost to the fight against the pandemic.

Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recommended the drug, molnupiravir, for use in people with mild to moderate COVID-19 and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness, such as obesity, older age diabetes, and heart disease, Reuters reported.

It will be administered as soon as possible following a positive COVID-19 test and within five days of the onset of symptoms, the regulator said, citing clinical data.

The green light is the first for an oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19 and the first for a COVID-19 drug that will be administered widely in the community. US advisers will meet this month to vote on whether molnupiravir should be authorized.

Treatments to tackle the pandemic, which has killed more than 5.2 million people worldwide, have so far focused mainly on vaccines. Other options, including Gilead's infused antiviral remdesivir and generic steroid dexamethasone, are generally only given after a patient has been hospitalised.

Merck's Molnupiravir has been closely watched since data last month showed it could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for those most at risk of developing severe COVID-19 when given early in the illness.

Molnupiravir, which will be branded as Lagevrio in Britain, is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and is taken twice a day for five days.

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