WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health advisers have endorsed an antiviral drug from Merck to treat COVID-19. It sets the stage for an expected authorization of the first pill that Americans could take at home for the coronavirus.
A Food and Drug Administration panel voted that the drug’s benefits in curbing hospitalizations and deaths outweigh its risks.
Those risks include potential birth defects if used during pregnancy.
The FDA isn’t bound by the panel’s recommendation and is expected to make its own decision before the end of the year.
Merck’s pill could provide a much-needed therapy as colder weather pushes case counts higher and U.S. officials brace for the arrival of the new omicron variant.
The vote specifically backed the drug for adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who face the greatest risks, including older people and those with conditions like obesity and asthma.
Most experts also said the drug shouldn’t be used in vaccinated patients, who weren’t part of the study and haven’t been shown to benefit.