Could Pfizer's Paxlovid or other antivirals help cure long COVID?

While the biopharmaceutical industry has been quick to develop vaccines, antibodies and antiviral remedies to combat the coronavirus, one area that has remained elusive for researchers is long COVID.

It hasn’t been for lack of trying. In February of 2021, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a four-year study backed by $1.15 billion in funding. Meanwhile, bits of anecdotal evidence give hope to those who have been brought down by the condition that treatment may be on its way.

RELATED: High-flying Pfizer may disappoint on Comirnaty and Paxlovid sales in Q1, analyst warns

The latest comes from two women in the U.S. who have shook off their lingering long-haul symptoms after going on a standard five-day regimen of Pfizer’s oral antiviral Paxlovid, which is currently prescribed for those who catch COVID-19 and are at risk for progressing to a severe form of the virus. One of the patients is a researcher who tested the drug on herself, according to a report from Reuters.

Could Paxlovid or other antivirals such as Merck’s molnupiravir or Gilead’s Veklury be the answer to solving long COVID? The condition affects up to 30% of those infected by the virus, causing a wide range of symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, headache, shortness of breath and joint and chest pain.

Pfizer is not testing Paxlovid against long COVID, a company spokesperson said. But two ongoing studies of the treatment involving more than 4,000 patients could provide “us with relevant data to help inform future studies,” Pfizer’s Kit Longley said in an email.

RELATED: Cracking the long-haul COVID code: How a basic symptom-tracking app may predict monthslong cases

Meanwhile, researchers are continuing to uncover nuggets that they hope will solve long COVID. In the NIH study, autopsies of 44 people who perished from COVID or were infected when they died showed that the virus can last in widespread parts of the body—including the brain—for seven months after infection.