Merck’s at-home antiviral COVID-19 pill gets US authorization

Merck’s at-home antiviral COVID-19 pill gets US authorization
An experimental COVID-19 treatment pill, called molnupiravir and being developed by Merck & Co. Inc. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP, is seen in this undated handout photo. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 December 2021

Merck’s at-home antiviral COVID-19 pill gets US authorization

Merck’s at-home antiviral COVID-19 pill gets US authorization
  • Merck's drug, molnupiravir, was shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths by around 30%
  • The US Food and Drug Administration authorized Merck's drug to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults who are at risk for severe disease

DUBAI: The US on Thursday authorized Merck & Co’s antiviral pill for COVID-19 for certain high-risk adult patients, a day after giving the go-ahead to a similar but more effective treatment from Pfizer Inc.
Merck’s drug, molnupiravir, developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, was shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths by around 30 percent in a clinical trial of high-risk individuals early in the course of the illness.
The US Food and Drug Administration authorized Merck’s drug to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults who are at risk for severe disease, and for whom alternative COVID-19 treatments are not accessible or clinically appropriate.
Pfizer’s drug, Paxlovid, was authorized on Wednesday for people aged 12 and older and has shown to be nearly 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to trial data.
The Pfizer treatment’s two-drug regimen may not be appropriate for some patients because it includes an older antiviral called ritonavir that is known to have interactions with some other prescription medicines.
The agency’s decision on Thursday comes despite concerns about its use by some outside advisers to the FDA.
Both the Merck and Pfizer pills could be promising tools for those who are sick with COVID-19, especially in the face of the fast-spreading omicron variant, which is now dominant in the United States. Some existing monoclonal antibody therapies given in the hospital are not as effective against omicron.
“This drug is also incredibly easy to use,” Nick Kartsonis, senior vice president of clinical research for vaccines and infectious diseases told Reuters.
“It doesn’t require any second drug to boost its efficacy, and you can give it in a variety of special patient populations, including people who have significant issues with liver function or kidney function, and you don’t have to worry about concomitant medications.”
Merck’s drug is not authorized for use in patients younger than 18 because molnupiravir may affect bone and cartilage growth, the FDA said. The pill is not recommended for use during pregnancy, the agency added.
The drug is meant to be taken twice a day — four pills each time — for five days, making a full treatment course 40 pills.
The US government’s contract for 10 million courses of the Pfizer drug at a price of $530 per course compares to the deal with Merck for as many as 5 million courses of molnupiravir at a price of $700 per course.
Paul Schaper, Merck’s head of global public policy, said the company will ship hundreds of thousands of treatment within several days and million courses of treatment within several weeks in the United States.
“We have entered into agreements with the US government for slightly more than 3 million doses, 3 million courses of treatment over 2021 and 2022,” Schaper told Reuters.
Merck has said molnupiravir, which helps prevent the virus from replicating, should be effective against any variant, including the new omicron variant.


Indonesians celebrate Vesak Day at world’s largest Buddhist temple

Indonesians celebrate Vesak Day at world’s largest Buddhist temple
Updated 12 sec ago

Indonesians celebrate Vesak Day at world’s largest Buddhist temple

Indonesians celebrate Vesak Day at world’s largest Buddhist temple
  • Devotees at scaled-down event commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha
  • Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 40,000 would gather at Borobudur each year for the festivities

JAKARTA: Indonesian Buddhists on Monday marked the religious holiday of Vesak at the faith’s largest temple in the world, as celebrations returned to the holy site after two years of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 1,000 people, mostly dressed in all-white, attended a ceremony at Borobudur temple in Central Java to mark this year’s event, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha.

Monday’s celebrations mark the first time in two years that a public procession of this scale has been held again at the 9th-century temple, following restrictions imposed to curb coronavirus transmissions.

Prior to the public health outbreak, more than 40,000 Buddhist devotees from across the country and abroad would gather at Borobudur each year to celebrate Vesak.

“Naturally, as Buddhist devotees we are very happy we can celebrate the holy day of Vesak at Borobudur Temple, because the temple is the world’s biggest mandala,” Tanto Soegito Harsono, lead organizer of the event and regional leader of the country’s biggest Buddhist organization WALUBI, told Arab News.

Mandala, which is Sanskrit for circle or center, is a significant spiritual symbol in Buddhism.

“Let us realize the teachings of the Buddha in our daily lives,” Harsono said, alluding to the event’s theme.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, is also home to sizable Buddhist, Christian and other religious minorities. Centuries ago, this part of central Java was ruled by Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms, whose cultural legacies remain through scattered temples and statues across the region.

In this year’s scaled-down celebrations, organizers say participants are capped at around 1,200 for the day’s ceremony, during which health protocols are mandatory.

Borobudur, made up of platforms that form a pyramid shape and topped with several stupas and Buddha statues, is also hosting a festival in the evening, which will see participants releasing 2,022 lit lanterns into the evening sky above the temple.

Christina, a 20-year-old college student visiting from Tangerang, a city near the capital Jakarta, had taken part in Vesak Day celebrations twice previously. She hopes this year will mark the return of the annual festivities in Borobudur.

“This year I get to participate as WALUBI’s marching band member during the procession,” Christina told Arab News.

“Celebrating Vesak in Borobudur is very meaningful for me.”


Chinese teachers leave Pakistan after deadly bombing at university

A security guard walks after a blast near a passenger van (not pictured) at the entrance of the Confucius Institute University o
A security guard walks after a blast near a passenger van (not pictured) at the entrance of the Confucius Institute University o
Updated 16 May 2022

Chinese teachers leave Pakistan after deadly bombing at university

A security guard walks after a blast near a passenger van (not pictured) at the entrance of the Confucius Institute University o
  • Four were killed in a suicide bombing at Karachi University’s Confucius Institute last month
  • Chinese nationals have frequently been targeted by separatists from Balochistan

KARACHI: Chinese teachers have left Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, a university official has confirmed, weeks after a targeted suicide blast killed their colleagues. 

Three Chinese language teachers and their Pakistani driver were killed in late April when a blast that also injured several others ripped through their van near Karachi University’s Confucius Institute. The attack was later claimed by the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army. 

Chinese nationals have frequently been targeted by separatists from Balochistan, where Beijing is involved in mega infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. 

Academic activities were suspended at the university following the attack last month, and all Chinese teachers were moved outside the campus. 

“On Sunday, all remaining 12 teachers at the institute left along with the remains of the deceased teachers for China,” Dr. Nadir Uddin, the Pakistani director of the Confucius Institute, told Arab News. 

“The institute has not been closed. It will go on, and academic activities here may soon be resumed through other methods.”

Launched in 2013, the Confucius Institute is a Chinese government-run body that offers language and cultural programs overseas conducted by Karachi University and the Sichuan Normal University in Chengdu. The institute’s Chinese director was among those killed in the bombing last month. 

Another Karachi university official said the Chinese teachers may not return. 

“The return of Chinese teachers is unlikely,” the official told Arab News on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press. 

“The administration has decided to resume academic activities in distance learning mode, in which teachers in China will teach Mandarin online.”

The Chinese Consulate in Karachi did not immediately respond to Arab News’ queries for this story. 

The bombing at the Confucius Institute was the first major attack on Chinese nationals in Pakistan since last year when a suicide bomber blew up a passenger bus. That incident killed 13 people, including nine Chinese workers employed at the Dasu Hydropower Project in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 

Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor framework that is central to China’s initiative to forge new “Silk Road” land and sea ties to markets in the Middle East and Europe.

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Updated 16 May 2022

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  • Russian leader says NATO’s expansion is a problem for Moscow

President Vladimir Putin on Monday said Russia had no issue with Finland and Sweden, but that the expansion of military infrastructure on their territory would demand a reaction from Moscow, as the Nordic countries move closer to joining NATO.
Putin, speaking in Moscow at a summit of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), said NATO’s expansion was a problem for Russia and that it must look closely at what he said were the US-led military alliance’s plans to increase its global influence.


Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case

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Updated 16 May 2022

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case
  • The orders, enacted in the capital during various states of emergency, included shortened operating hours and a ban on alcohol sales

TOKYO: Japan’s “Kill Bill” restaurant operator prevailed in a court case on Monday that declared Tokyo’s now defunct COVID-19 infection curbs were illegal.
The orders, enacted in the capital during various states of emergency, included shortened operating hours and a ban on alcohol sales, though there was a compensating government subsidy. Businesses that didn’t comply were subject to fines.
Global-Dining Inc, which runs more than 40 restaurants, defied the restrictions, taking the city government to court over the matter.
The district court said the Tokyo government had not provided a “rational explanation” for the measures. The court determined they had been illegal but it denied Global-Dining’s claim for $0.80 (¥104) in damages.
The restrictions ended in March. Whether this ruling would inhibit the city government in acting against any renewed COVID-19 outbreak is unclear.
In a statement, Global-Dining president Kozo Hasegawa, said the case revealed the “injustice and sloppiness of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.” His company crowd-funded more than 25 million yen to fight the case.
Global-Dining’s Gonpachi restaurant, with a cavernous inner courtyard, inspired the fight scene in Quentin Tarantino’s first “Kill Bill” film. It was the site of a dinner between then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then US President George W. Bush in 2002.


Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14
Updated 16 May 2022

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14
  • The bus was returning from a trip to Central Java’s Dieng Plateau, a popular mountain resort

SURABAYA, Indonesia: A tourist bus with an apparently drowsy driver slammed into a billboard Monday on a highway on Indonesia’s main island of Java, killing at least 14 people and injuring 19 others, police said.
The bus, carrying Indonesian tourists from Surabaya, the capital of East Java province, was returning from a trip to Central Java’s Dieng Plateau, a popular mountain resort, when it hit the billboard on the Mojokerto toll road just after dawn, East Java traffic police chief Latief Usman said.
Television news showed police and medical personnel removing victims from the bus, which crashed just 400 meters before the highway exit.
Usman said police are still investigating the cause of the accident, but that the driver reportedly appeared drowsy before the crash.
He said police haven’t yet questioned the driver, who suffered severe injuries. Nineteen people were being treated in four hospitals in Mojokerto, mostly for broken bones.
Road accidents are common in Indonesia because of poor safety standards and infrastructure.