Pfizer CEO says oral antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 could be ready by end of year

Pfizer’s CEO said on Tuesday an antiviral drug to treat COVID-19 which began a Phase 1 study in March could be available by the end of this year.

On CNBC’s "Squawk Box," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was asked what would be a reasonable time frame for the release of the antiviral pill. "If all goes well and we implement the same speed that we did so far, and if regulators do the same and they are, I hope that by the end of the year," Bourla said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only so far fully approved remdesivir, an antiviral agent, for COVID-19 treatment. It is recommended for patients in a hospital who require supplemental oxygen. The agency has granted emergency use authorization for nine other COVID-19 treatments.

Pfizer announced on March 22 that its oral antiviral drug, known as PF-07321332, has already shown potential in treating COVID-19 patients as well as other coronavirus infections. 

RELATED: Pfizer begins phase 1 study of oral COVID-19 treatment drug

Researchers said the oral drug, if approved for use, can be prescribed and taken at the first sign of infection even if the COVID-19 patient is not in the hospital or in critical care.

The way the drug works is that it releases inhibitors that bind to a virus and keep it from replicating. The same formula is used to treat HIV and the hepatitis C virus. 

Several other companies, including Roche and AstraZeneca, are testing antiviral drugs in pill form to help treat the novel coronavirus, which has now killed more than 573,000 Americans, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. 

Farthest along is Molnupiravir from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. It doesn’t seem to help hospitalized patients but shows promise in less sick ones, and a large study should give results this fall, the companies said.

Both companies said Molnupiravir would function as an at-home, five-day treatment, similar to Tamiflu, to stop the virus from reproducing before causing major damage.

RELATED: NIH to test potential of ‘repurposed drugs’ in COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms

The National Institutes of Health is also currently testing existing prescription and over-the-counter medications to see if repurposing them could help treat people with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19.

The NIH said on April 19 that it is funding a large study to analyze multiple drugs and their effects on COVID-19, which will hopefully allow adults who are not sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID-19 to be able to treat themselves with medications that are already commonly available to the public. 

The NIH said they’re looking at seven drugs to see if they can help alleviate symptoms, but didn’t specify which ones. The drugs have already been approved by the FDA for other conditions, and the NIH said testing them now in COVID-19 patients is a process known as "drug repurposing."

The NIH also recommends other treatments for COVID-19 on their website.

This story was reported from Los Angeles. Chris Williams and the Associated Press contributed.