Merck asks FDA to approve covid pill

A US pharmaceutical firm asked regulators on Monday to approve what would be the first pill to treat COVID-19. Merck executives called it a "milestone" in the fight against the coronavirus.

Merck scientists asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize molnupiravir for emergency use. They said the drug inserts errors into the genetic code of the virus to stop it from replicating.

The scientists said the medication prevents patients in the early stages of the disease from developing serious symptoms. They said the pill reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by about 50 percent over those given a placebo.

Lead scientist Daria Hazuda said the drug is not meant to replace vaccines. Still, vaccination rates in many countries are low. The pill would be an additional tool in the fight against the virus.

US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Swiss drugmaker Roche are running trials on their own pills. If approved, those medications could help to expand the supply.