New COVID-19 Antiviral Pill Set to Start Trials in 2023
Experts Say New Oral Treatment Is a “Gamechanger”
Groundbreaking research has long been underway since the coronavirus pandemic struck the world in 2020. Today, the medical community is still hard at work to learn more about the short-term and long-term effects of COVID-19.
For many Americans, long COVID (also referred to as long-haul COVID, post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, and post-COVID condition) is a topic of increasing concern. Many affected people have continued to experience debilitating long-term effects after contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While some of these effects are considered “lingering” symptoms (similar to those experienced during infection), other symptoms are more unclear.
Sadly, a large number of people have experienced significant changes such as cognitive deficits and psychiatric disorders. These symptoms have been known to last weeks, months, or longer. For some, the effects of long COVID have been indefinite to date. Common symptoms of long COVID include:
- Debilitating fatigue
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Brain fog (difficulty thinking or concentrating)
- Sleep disturbances (such as insomnia)
- Change or disappearance of smell and/or taste
- Mental health effects (such as depression, anhedonia, and anxiety)
- “Pins and needles” sensation
- Digestive issues
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Joint or muscle pain
- Short-term memory loss
- Change in menstrual cycle
Some affected people suffer from significant psychiatric effects as a result of long COVID, such as dementia, epilepsy, and seizures. Fortunately, research has been conducted for over two years now as medical professionals work hard to establish treatment options and seek relief for those suffering from long COVID symptoms.
What Is the RECOVER Initiative?
One of these promising studies includes a new oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19 and long COVID. It’s part of the RECOVER Initiative, a program founded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to learn about the long-term effects of COVID-19.
The program aims to discover why so many people are unable to fully recover from the virus and instead suffer post-sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (commonly referred to as long COVID).
NIH Announces Oral Antiviral COVID-19 Pill
The $1 billion RECOVER Initiative recently announced that the use of Paxlovid—an oral pill intended to treat COVID and its long-term effects—is set to start its first trial on January 1, 2023.
The study is intended to investigate the leading theory that long COVID is caused by lingering fragments of the virus in affected people’s bodily tissues. The study itself entails a randomized and placebo-controlled trial to be supervised by the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI).
What You Need to Know About Paxlovid
Considering how scary the unknown can be, it’s natural to feel uncertain or uneducated when it comes to keeping up with the most recent and credible COVID-19 research. You may be wondering what Paxlovid is all about, especially after its debut on national news. Here are some key takeaways to know about the new oral COVID treatment:
- Paxlovid was granted an emergency use authorization by the FDA in December 2021. It's only recommended for people who weigh at least 88 pounds, are at least 12 years old, and are at high risk for COVID-19.
- The drug was developed by Pfizer. Studies show that Paxlovid resulted in an 89% reduction in the risk of hospitalization and death, prompting the NIH to prioritize this treatment over other potential treatments.
- Paxlovid is expected to work against the Omicron variant. This is especially reassuring considering how new the Omicron variant is.
- Paxlovid isn’t the first of its kind. Other oral pills exist to combat the effects of COVID-19 and long COVID. However, other options have yielded less successful trials. For example, a pill from Merck called Lagevrio only resulted in a 30% reduction in hospitalization and death, whereas Paxlovid soared above at 89%.
- Paxlovid is considered one of the more convenient COVID treatments. For example, the FDA also approved a drug called remdesivir in October 2020, which was administered as an intravenous injection rather than an oral form.
How Does Paxlovid Work?
Paxlovid is an antiviral oral treatment that entails 2 types of medications and 3 pills total, all of which will be packaged together.
The following medications are included in Paxlovid:
- Nirmatrelvir (2 of the 3 pills): This drug inhibits a key enzyme that the SARS-CoV-2 virus requires to make virus particles. It prevents the virus from entering uninfected cells in your body, thus stopping the infection.
- Ritonavir (1 of the 3 pills): This drug was once used to treat HIV/AIDS. Today, it’s used to boost the levels of antiviral treatments. It serves to reduce the metabolism of the nirmatrelvir, allowing it to stay in your body for longer and thus work longer.
Implications for Patients with Long COVID & ME/CFS
Assuming the Paxlovid trial goes well in January 2023, this could suggest considerable positive implications for patients who suffer from long COVID and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). The latter is a serious chronic disease that severely impairs patients’ day-to-day functioning, resulting in symptoms like:
- Impaired function
- Post-exertional malaise
- Sleep impairment
- Gastrointestinal and genitourinary issues
While the causes of ME/CFS are unknown, many individuals remain sick after acute infection with symptoms persisting for at least 6 months following the infection. Of the 2.5 million Americans who have been diagnosed with ME/CFS, at least one-quarter of affected patients will be bedbound or housebound at some point during the illness and may not ever regain normal pre-infection functioning—circumstances similar to what those affected by long COVID experience after contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The possibility that the new 2023 Paxlovid study can shed more light on infection-associated diseases after the acute infection phase ends has offered many affected Americans hope, leading the medical community to dub the new COVID-19 treatment as “a gamechanger.”
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