Roche looking for new place to test COVID-19 pill after cases plummet in UK

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) - Roche is looking for another location to carry out trials of its pill to fight COVID-19, after plummeting case numbers in Britain made it difficult to find enough patients for its study there, the Swiss drugmaker said on Wednesday.

Roche and Boston-based partner Atea Pharmaceuticals are hoping their AT-527 pill could offer an anti-viral therapy to treat COVID-19 patients that would be easier to administer and cheaper than other prospective treatments, such as antibody cocktails or Gilead Science's remdesivir.

In an interview in Swiss media in early March, Roche Chairman Christoph Franz had offered the tantalizing prospect of data on AT-527 "within the next weeks", saying he dreamed of being able to fight the pandemic with a pill by year's end.

But Britain's success in reducing case numbers with a swift vaccination programme and strict lockdown meant it was taking longer than expected to collect data from the trial there, said Bill Anderson, head of Roche's pharmaceutical division.