Pfizer tests oral COVID-19 antiviral for preventing infection in people living with patients

Looking to be the dominant player in COVID-19, Pfizer is kick-starting a phase 2/3 clinical trial for an oral therapeutic antiviral for adults who have been exposed to the coronavirus.

If successful, the therapy will join Pfizer’s BioNTech-partnered mega blockbuster COVID-19 vaccine in a portfolio of products that could help stem the pandemic.

PF-07321332, a name that really rolls off the tongue, will be examined in a phase 2/3 trial called EPIC-PEP in combination with common HIV antiviral ritonavir to prevent COVID-19 in adults who are living in the same home as someone who has the respiratory disease.

The main goal is to assess the safety and efficacy of the treatment in preventing COVID-19 infection over 14 days. Pfizer is hoping the therapy can eventually be prescribed at the first sign of infection or the first indication of exposure.

RELATED: Pfizer taps HIV, hep C antiviral research for COVID-19 pill trial

Pfizer has pulled together some old tech that has been used in the past against HIV and hepatitis C for the new oral treatment. The protease inhibitor antiviral is meant to block the coronavirus from replicating. Ritonavir is administered in a low dose to help PF-07321332 stay active in the body longer.

This is the third trial in the global clinical research program called EPIC. Pfizer started a trial for infected patients at high risk of severe illness in July and another for infected patients who are at standard risk in August.

An oral treatment to prevent infections would be the holy grail in fighting the pandemic. Many of the existing treatments, which are struggling against viral variants, have to be administered via more invasive means in a hospital setting. The U.S. government is providing plenty of funding to companies large and small to try to develop a simple pill for patients to pop to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Pfizer also has an intravenously administered antiviral candidate in development for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.