The drug giant Merck revealed it has developed a medication that cuts Covid hospitalizations or deaths in half when given to high risk people early in their infections. It’s called molnupiravir and the New York Times reports:

The treatment could become the first in a wave of antiviral pill products, which experts say could offer a powerful new tool in efforts to tame the pandemic, as they could reach more people than the antibody treatments that are being widely used in the United States for similar patients.

“I think it will translate into many thousands of lives being saved worldwide, where there’s less access to monoclonal antibodies, and in this country, too,” said Dr. Robert Shafer, an infectious disease specialist and expert on antiviral therapy at Stanford University.

Merck said on Friday that it plans to seek emergency authorization from the F.D.A. for the drug. The results of a clinical trial for molnupiravir were so convincing, experts recommended the study be stopped so approval could be sought by the drug maker.

The Washington Post adds that Merck has already begun manufacturing the medication.

The small brown capsules must be taken twice a day for five days. The company predicts it will make 10 million courses of treatment by the end of the year. The U.S. government made an advance purchase of 1.7 million treatment courses of the drug at a cost of $1.2 billion.

Here’s more coverage of this developing story from Axios, Stat News, and Reuters