The first pill to help in the fight against Covid-19 could be made available within months, but Australia hasn't signed on to purchase any doses just yet.
Interim clinical trial results of the experimental antiviral treatment molnupiravir have shown the drug cut the chance of patients being hospitalised by 50 per cent and dramatically reduced the risk of death.
US manufacturers Merck said it would apply to the Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorisation for the drug within the next fortnight.
If approved, it would be the first simple tablet treatment for Covid-19.
Australia's medical regulator has already granted a provisional determination to local manufacturers Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) in relation to the drug, meaning it can now apply for a further evaluation of the data.
A spokesman for the Health Department did not respond to questions on whether it would invite MSD to apply for provisional approval in Australia in tandem with the US.
"We are closing monitoring clinical trials evaluating Covid-19 treatments being conducted in Australia and overseas and we have met with a number of developers and manufacturers regarding emerging treatments for the prevention and treatment of Covid-19," the spokesman said.
"Future investments in Covid-19 vaccine candidates and treatments are subject to the advice of the Covid-19 Vaccines and Treatments for Australia – Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group, and assessment of clinical evidence, including portfolio diversification and risk.
"All Covid-19 treatment applications are being treated with the greatest priority as part of the Department of Health's response to the pandemic. For Covid-19 treatments, the TGA has agreed to accept rolling data to enable early evaluation of data as it comes to hand."
The US government has agreed to purchase $1.2 billion worth of the treatment if it receives approval from the FDA.
Eddie Gray, the chair of Britain's antivirals task force, also indicated the UK was interested in the drug.
The pill was originally developed to treat influenza and is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus, preventing it from spreading in the body.
Early results of the clinical trial suggest patients who received the pill within five days of first displaying symptoms gain the greatest benefit.
Of the 775 patients who participated in the study, less than 8 per cent of those given molnupiravir were hospitalised, compared with 14 per cent who were given a dummy pill.
There were no deaths in the patients who were given the pill, while eight patients who received the placebo later died of Covid.