Irish firm is in ‘advanced’ stages of a swallowable coronavirus vaccine, Leo Varadkar tells his MPs


Take a PILL to ward off Covid? Irish firm is in ‘advanced’ stages of creating tablet that stops the spread of coronavirus, Deputy PM Leo Varadkar reveals

  • MSD Pharmaceutical are in ‘advanced stages’ of producing Covid-19 tablet
  • Deputy PM Leo Varadkar told his party of the development on Wednesday night
  • The company had previously discontinued two experimental vaccines 
  • The US drug giant has extensive operations in Ireland across six sites 

A major breakthrough from a pharmaceutical giant based in Ireland could see a Covid-19 treatment administered through a pill.

MSD Pharmaceutical, which is known as Merck & Co. in the United States and Canada, are in the ‘advanced’ stages of producing a tablet treatment for the virus.

Deputy PM Leo Varadkar told his Fine Gael parliamentary party about the development on Wednesday night. 

The company had previously discontinued two experimental vaccines after early trial data showed they failed to generate immune response comparable to a natural or existing vaccine.

The US drug giant has extensive operations in Ireland across six sites in Dublin, Cork, Carlow, Tipperary and Meath. The company employs 2,700 people in the State.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (pictured) told his Fine Gael parliamentary party about the development that MSD Pharmaceutical are in the ‘advanced’ stages of producing a tablet treatment for Covid-19 on Wednesday night

Meanwhile a row between the European Union and drugmaker AstraZeneca escalated yesterday over a delay in coronavirus vaccine deliveries.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot addressed the dispute for the first time, rejecting the EU’s assertion that the company was failing to honour its contractual commitments.

Mr Soriot said vaccine delivery figures in AstraZeneca’s contract with the 27-nation bloc were targets, not firm commitments, and added that the company was unable to meet them because of problems in rapidly expanding production capacity.

‘Our contract is not a contractual commitment, it’s a best effort,’ he said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

After a third round of talks aimed at resolving the dispute last night, Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety said that there was a ‘continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule’. 

She urged AstraZeneca to come up with a clear plan for a quick delivery of the doses reserved by the EU for the first quarter.

However, in a message posted on Twitter, Ms Kyriakides noted ‘a constructive tone’ in the discussions with Mr Soriot.

AstraZeneca said last week that it planned to cut initial deliveries in the EU to 31million doses from 80million due to production problems at its manufacturing plants on the continent. 

But the EU has claimed that it will receive even less than that – just one quarter of the doses that member states were supposed to get during January-March 2021.

The Government is currently projecting to have 1.1million vaccine doses into the country by the end of March.

However, this is due to step up considerably in the months after with 1.5million doses arriving in April and 2million arriving in May. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that September remains the ‘aspiration’ to have every person in the country vaccinated, despite issues around supply.

MSD Pharmaceutical (known as Merck & Co. in the United States and Canada) are in the ‘advanced’ stages of producing a tablet treatment for the virus. Pictured: MSD in Dublin

MSD Pharmaceutical (known as Merck & Co. in the United States and Canada) are in the ‘advanced’ stages of producing a tablet treatment for the virus. Pictured: MSD in Dublin

He added that the vaccination programme is ‘going well’, but delays to the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine could hamper the Government’s timeframe.

‘September is absolutely still the aspiration,’ he told RTÉ’s Today With Claire Byrne yesterday.

‘We can’t promise… because it’s a projection based partly on vaccinations that haven’t even been applied for authorisation, and on delivery schedules that still have to be fully agreed.’

Vaccinations for the over-70s are due to get under way in the next two weeks, he added

Meanwhile Mr Varadkar told a Fine Gael party meeting last night that data from Israel – where almost half of the population have received their first jab – was ‘encouraging’.

Earlier this week, a study published in Israel found that fewer that 1% of people in a group of fully vaccinated patients have developed the virus.

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