The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved an oral anti-viral pill to treat Covid-19 at home.

The UK is the first country to approve molnupiravir as safe for use, after clinical trials found it to be effective at reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death by around half.

Developed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), molnupiravir works by interfering with the virus’ replication, preventing it from multiplying and keeping virus levels low in the body, reducing the severity of the disease.

The drug is the first anti-viral for Covid that can be orally

The drug is the first anti-viral for Covid that can be taken by mouth rather than administered intravenously, and is most effective when taken during the early stages of infection. For this reason, the MHRA recommends its use as soon as possible following a positive Covid-19 test and within five days of symptom onset.

The pill will be available to those who with mild to moderate Covid-19 who are at increased risk of developing severe disease. Such risk factors include obesity, older age, diabetes or heart disease.

Dr June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive, said the Agency rigorously reviewed the data by expert scientists and clinicians before granting its approval. She said: “With no compromises on quality, safety and effectiveness, the public can trust that the MHRA has conducted a robust and thorough assessment of the data.”

A "gamechanger" for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said the drug will be "a gamechanger for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the ground-breaking treatment.”

“This antiviral will be an excellent addition to our armoury against Covid-19, and it remains vital everyone comes forward for their life-saving Covid-19 vaccine - particularly those eligible for a booster - to ensure as many people as possible are protected over the coming months,” he added.

The government and NHS will confirm how this new treatment will be deployed to patients in the near future.