China’s medical products regulator has approved two more domestically developed antiviral drugs as the country braces for a possible wave of post- Lunar New Year Covid-19 infections. The oral pills SIM0417 (called Xiannuoxin) and VV116 , targeting mild to moderate symptoms, were approved for adult patients by the National Medical Products Administration on Sunday. Over 90 per cent of people in Beijing will have had Covid by end of month: study The approval brings the number of Covid-19 antivirals which can be sold in China to five – including the HIV drug Azvudine and Molnupiravir, another overseas product better known as Lagevrio – and will help meet demand for the medication in future peaks. After a tsunami of cases in December, China reported a sharp drop in the number of hospital patients dying from Covid-19 during the Lunar New Year holiday – at 6,364 between January 20-26, it was almost half the previous week. But while the accuracy of Chinese health figures has been controversial, there are also concerns that the mass migration from cities to villages during China’s largest festival could cause another wave of infection. SIM0417 is the first Chinese antiviral to act as a 3CL protease inhibitor, which suppresses the protein required for viral replication – the same approach adopted by Pfizer’s Paxlovid, but more effective, according to developer Simcere Pharmaceutical. Paxlovid was imported to China last year for Covid-19 but has been removed from the country’s public health insurance scheme because of its cost, after Chinese authorities failed to negotiate a low enough price. As a locally developed medication, the price of SIM0417 will be “significantly lower” and it will be automatically included in the scheme, said a statement from Simcere Pharmaceutical. “As seen from publicly available clinical data, [SIM0417] is more advantageous in aspects like recovery of symptoms of mild to moderate patients and decrease in viral load.” The company said SIM0417 is more targeted to the domestic situation as its development – by the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica and Wuhan Institute of Virology – was largely based on samples from Chinese patients with the Omicron variant. As Covid surges in China, hopes for lower Paxlovid prices fade Simcere Pharmaceutical said its research showed a 96 per cent drop in viral load after a five-day course of SIM0417, compared to 86.4 per cent with Paxlovid. No independent data has been made available to support the finding. In its last phase of clinical testing, the new antiviral eliminated 11 Covid-19 symptoms – including cough, fever and diarrhoea – in patients with mild to moderate illness about 1½ days shorter than the placebo group, the company said. VV116, the second treatment approved on Sunday, was jointly developed by Junshi Biosciences and Vigonvital Life Science and other research institutes under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. During testing, 1,277 patients with mild to moderate symptoms recovered on average two days earlier than a control group, according to the developers. An earlier study, published by the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine, found patients who received VV116 recovered about a day earlier and with fewer adverse effects than those taking Paxlovid, but the Chinese drug’s efficacy in reducing the risk of serious illness or death could not yet be determined.