“Pfizermectin”? Is Pfizer’s new drug just ivermectin in disguise?

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In September 2021, a number of media reported a new oral drug developed by Pfizer to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. As these reports circulated online, some social media users jokingly dubbed the new drug “Pfizermectin,” a combination of the company name and the drug Ivermectin – a drug developed to treat parasitic infections that was both source of confusion and controversy – and claimed that Pfizer was copying or cloning the drug.

Why is ivermectin controversial?

Before we get into “Pfizermectin”, let’s see why ivermectin has become controversial.

Ivermectin is used to treat parasitic worms in humans and farm animals. The developers of this drug won the Nobel Prize in 2015 after the drug was found to be quite effective in combating river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. Although this drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for parasitic infections, it has not been approved as a treatment for COVID-19.

Some studies, however, have suggested that ivermectin may have potential as a treatment for COVID-19, but these studies have been largely inconclusive. This has again led some people to try to self-treat with the drug and in some cases to self-treat with the horse version of the drug. In short, ivermectin is not (yet) an approved treatment for COVID-19.

Did Pfizer’s new drug just repackage ivermectin?

No.

The tweet posted above claims that Pfizer’s new drug, PF-07321332, is simply ivermectin with a new name. This is not true.

The tweet goes on to claim that Pfizer is renaming the drug so that it can make it more expensive. It’s absurd.

Those who spread this claim seem to believe that “Big Pharma” steals an independently produced drug, partners with government agencies to get the drug approved quickly, and then increases the price as it goes on the market. But there are some issues with this theory.

On the one hand, ivermectin is already produced by the company “Big Pharma” Merck. If Pfizer were to actually copy this drug, it seems plausible that Merck would push it back in the press or in legal proceedings. But that was not the case.

In addition, ivermectin is already a drug approved by the FDA for its originally intended use: to treat parasitic infections. The drug has not been approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19 because the drug has not been proven to be an effective treatment for COVID-19.

But ivermectin and Pfizer’s new drug are both “potent protease inhibitors”, aren’t they?

A more nuanced version of the “Pfizermectin” rumor claims that Pfizer’s new drug and ivermectin act as “potent protease inhibitors,” which social media users say makes it essentially the same drug . But this is not the case.

Ivermectin has not been developed as a protease inhibitor. This claim comes from a March 2021 study that investigated the effectiveness of ivermectin as an antiviral drug. This study found that ivermectin was a “blocker of human viral replicase, protease and TMPRSS2”.

But protease inhibitors are a class of antiviral drugs that have been used to treat HIV / AIDS and hepatitis C. In other words, there are several different drugs that act as protease inhibitors (“La protease is an enzyme in the body, ”according to Healthline, and“ Protease inhibitor drugs block the action of protease enzymes ”). Just because two drugs can perform a similar function does not mean that they are interchangeable or the same.

A Pfizer spokesperson told us:

Pfizer’s protease inhibitor is not similar to that of an animal medicine and does not have the same mechanism. In the past, protease inhibitors have revolutionized the treatment of HIV and hepatitis C. Applying this powerful and potent mechanism of action to COVID-19 could alter the course of the pandemic. For COVID-19, protease inhibitors are designed to block the activity of the SARS-CoV-2 protease, which is an enzyme that the virus needs to multiply and replicate in the body, and therefore prevent the symptoms get worse.

Dr Stephen Griffin, virologist and associate professor at the Leeds Institute for Medical Research, told Full Fact that Pfizer’s new drug was “nothing” like ivermectin and that the two drugs were “extremely different on the structural plan ”.

What is Pfizer’s new medicine?

Pfizer is currently conducting trials on a new oral drug, currently known as PF-07321332, to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The company said in a statement that the “new oral antiviral candidate PF-07321332” will be co-administered with a “low dose of ritonavir”, another antiretroviral protease inhibitor, to prevent COVID-19 infections.

Pfizer said in a statement: “Protease inhibitors, like PF-07321332, are designed to block the activity of the main protease enzyme that the coronavirus needs to replicate. “

Dr Mikael Dolsten, Scientific Director of Pfizer and President of Worldwide Research, Development, said:

“If successful, we believe this therapy could help stop the virus early – before it has had a chance to extensively replicate – potentially preventing symptomatic disease in those who have been exposed and inhibiting the onset of infection in others… In view of the continued emergence and evolution of SARS-CoV-2 variants and their immense impact, we continue to work diligently to develop and study further new ways in which our experimental oral antiviral candidate could potentially reduce the impact of COVID-19, not only on the lives of patients, but also on the lives of their families and members of their household.


Sources:

Chaccour, Carlos et al. “Ivermectin and COVID-19: maintaining rigor in times of emergency. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Vol. 102, no. 6, June 2020, p. 1156–57. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.4269/ajtmh.20-0271.

Commissioner, Office of the. “Why you shouldn’t use ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19.” FDA, September 2021. www.fda.gov, https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/why-you-should-not-use-ivermectin-treat-or-prevent-covid-19.

Garfinkel, Noah. “Pfizer is testing an oral pill that could prevent COVID infection. Axios, https://www.axios.com/pfizer-tests-oral-pill-covid-infection-prevention-82292abc-1b7a-4109-8abb-a15e02ba7a0e.html. Accessed September 30, 2021.

Choudhury, Abhigyan et al. “Exploring the binding efficacy of ivermectin against key proteins in the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2: an in silico approach. “Future Virology, p. 10.2217 / fvl-2020-0342. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.2217/fvl-2020-0342.

“Guide to protease inhibitors for HIV.” Healthline, March 29, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/hiv-aids/protease-inhibitors.

Pfizer Launches Phase 1 Study of Novel Oral Antiviral Therapeutic Agent for SARS-CoV-2 | Pfizer. https://www.pfizer.com/news/press-release/press-release-detail/pfizer-initiates-phase-1-study-novel-oral-antiviral. Accessed September 30, 2021.

Pfizer Launches Global Phase 2/3 EPIC-PEP Study of New Oral Antiviral Candidate COVID-19 for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis in Adults | Pfizer. https://www.pfizer.com/news/press-release/press-release-detail/pfizer-starts-global-phase-23-epic-pep-study-novel-covid-19. Accessed September 30, 2021.

“Pfizer’s new trial drug is not ivermectin in disguise.” Full Fact, September 21, 2021, https://fullfact.org/online/new-protease-inhibitor/.

“Springfield Farm stores see increased sales of ivermectin as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/local/2021/08/30/springfield-missouri-farm-stores-see-increase-ivermectin-sales-covid-19- horse -vermifuge-fda-warning / 5601496001 /. Accessed September 30, 2021.

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