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Drugmaker Merck & Co. says that its experimental COVID-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with COVID-19 and that it would soon ask health officials in the United States and around the world to authorize for its use.

If cleared, the drug would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19, a potentially major step forward in global efforts to control the pandemic. All COVID-19 therapies now authorized in the US and elsewhere require an IV or injection.

“With these compelling results, we are optimistic that ‘molnupiravir’ can become an important medicine as part of the global effort to fight the pandemic,” said Robert Davis, the company’s CEO and president, in a statement on Friday.

A pill that could be taken at home, by contrast, could keep many patients out of the hospital, easing the workload on strained healthcare professionals.

It could also help curb outbreaks in lower-income countries that do not have access to the more expensive infusion therapies.