First pills to treat Covid-19 could be available in the Netherlands next month
Two antiviral medications which can be used to treat an infection of the coronavirus at an early stage will be available in the Netherlands in January at the earliest. The two drugs are Paxlovid, made by Pfizer, and Molnupiravir, which is manufactured in Haarlem by MSD. The two pharmaceutical firms have already obtained provisional approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), but the Netherlands decided to wait for the final decision from the EMA, expected in January. Deals on the purchase of the two medications have not been finalized.
European Union Member States were allowed to authorize use of the drugs under the preliminary approval, while the EMA's independent experts continue working on their evaluations. That decision to allow emergency use was made "in light of rising Covid-19 infection rates and deaths." The pills reduce the chance that someone who has contracted the virus will become seriously ill and will require hospitalization.
However, Health minister Hugo de Jonge does not think it is appropriate to use the drug on the basis of the provisional approval, he wrote to the Tweede Kamer last week. He wanted to wait for a full assessment after consulting with medical organizations. It seems that it will take a few more weeks for this to be completed, after which the Netherlands will make its own decision. That will happen "as soon as possible," the ministry said.
The NHG, an association of general practitioners, is involved in drawing up guidelines for using the antiviral pills. A working group will take a critical look at the research results as soon as all data is available. The experts will pay attention to "the magnitude and reliability of the effects, the reported side effects and the duration of the study", NHG previously summed up. Drug safety and the risk of developing resistance will also be considered. "These steps are being completed faster than usual, but carefully," the association emphasized.
In the meantime, De Jonge is trying to temper expectations regarding the pill. "Is it the silver bullet? I honestly don't believe that," he said during the debate about coronavirus policy in the Tweede Kamer on Tuesday. The minister warned that the cures are burdensome, and only work if a patient starts taking them within a few days of infection.
The Netherlands wants to purchase the Covid-19 treatments from both Pfizer and MSD as part of a broader European deal. The Netherlands also wants a difect purchase agreement with MSD. The ministry will only announce how many courses of treatment the Netherlands will purchase once the deals have been completed.
A Pfizer spokesperson confirmed that there is no agreement yet. The European Commission has not commented about the negotiations.
Reporting by ANP.