Pfizer begins phase 1 study of oral COVID-19 treatment drug

The Pfizer logo is seen with a syringe and needle in this photo illustration in Warsaw, Poland on March 1, 2021. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Pfizer announced Monday that it has begun the phase 1 study of an oral antiviral drug to treat SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The pharmaceutical company said the trial is being conducted in the U.S. and has already shown potential in treating COVID-19 patients as well as other coronaviruses. 

The way the drug works is that it releases inhibitors that bind to a virus and keep it from replicating. The same formula is used to treat HIV and the hepatitis C virus. 

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Researchers said the oral drug, if approved for use, can be prescribed and taken at the first sign of infection even if the COVID-19 patient is not in the hospital or in critical care.

"Given the way that SARS-CoV-2 is mutating and the continued global impact of COVID-19, it appears likely that it will be critical to have access to therapeutic options both now and beyond the pandemic," Pfizer Chief Scientific Officer and President Mikael Dolsten said in a statement.

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The company hopes to share the results of its study on April 6 during the COVID-19 session of the Spring American Chemical Society meeting.

Other oral drugs to treat COVID-19 are also being developed.

Second-stage testing of the experimental COVID-19 pill called Molnupiravir, by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, showed promising signs of effectiveness in reducing the virus in patients. The drug would function as an at-home, five-day treatment, similar to Tamiflu, to stop the virus from reproducing before causing major damage.

While work continues on oral drug treatments, several intravenous treatments are available.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only fully approved Remdesivir, an antiviral agent, for COVID-19 treatment. It is recommended for patients in a hospital who require supplemental oxygen. In addition, the agency has granted emergency use authorization for nine other COVID-19 treatments.

FOX News contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.