Pleasant Hills researchers unable to recruit patients for COVID-19 pill trial

A pill to treat COVID-19 could soon be on the market. Friday, Merck announced that its experimental antiviral pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 50%, and they plan to submit an application for emergency use authorization as soon as possible.

“This is really a big deal. This is the first medication in pill form that has shown to be effective to treat COVID,” said Dr. Bryce Palchick with Preferred Primary Care Physicians.

The same pill is being tested in the Pittsburgh area, but for a different purpose — to help prevent people from contracting COVID after exposure. However, Preferred Primary Care Physicians said they are having no luck recruiting patients for the trial.

Researchers at the Pleasant Hills center are helping with the Merck clinical trial.

If cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, the drug would be the first pill shown to treat people with COVID-19.

In Pittsburgh, Palchick says they are looking to see if the pill prevents the virus in people who have likely been exposed. They started the trial several weeks ago, but not a single patient has enrolled.

“We have a great drug, we have a great opportunity, and we have nobody knocking on the door. That’s why i’m extremely happy to be talking to you. People need to know what’s available for them,” said Palchick.

A big factor is that those participating cannot be vaccinated.

In Pennsylvania, 68.8% of people 18 and older are fully vaccinated, and in Allegheny County, the rate is even a little higher.

Palchick says they need at least six to eight patients locally who’ve been exposed to someone with COVID in their household.

“The biggest challenge is getting people in fast enough. You have to be treated in the first five days, which means we have to know about you within the first three days to do pretesting and screening on you,” said Palchick.

Right now, the trial is in phase 3 and so far,  studies have shown the pill helped all forms of COVID including the delta variant. Phases 1 and 2 detected no serious safety risks. However, common minor side efects like headache and insomnia were reported.

For information about the trial and how to sign up, call Preferred Primary Care Physicans in Pleasant Hills at 412-650-6155.