Merck applies for US emergency authorization of COVID-19 pill
This handout photo obtained May 26, 2021 courtesy of Merck & Co,Inc. shows capsules of the investigational antiviral pill Molnupiravir(AFP)

(Reuters) - Merck & Co Inc said on Monday it has applied for emergency use authorization in the United States for its oral drug to treat mild-to-moderate patients of COVID-19.

The treatment, molnupiravir, has been developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. If authorized, it would be the first oral antiviral medication.

Data released last week showed that molnupiravir could halve the chances of death or being hospitalized for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19.

Existing drugs include Gilead Sciences Inc's infused antiviral remdesivir and generic steroid dexamethasone, both of which are generally only given once a patient has already been hospitalized.

Monoclonal antibody drugs have so far seen only limited uptake due to the difficulty in their administration.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)