Drugmaker Merck says its experimental COVID-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus.

The company said Friday that it would soon ask health officials in the U.S. and around the world to authorize its use.

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The drug would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19. That is a potentially major advance in efforts to fight the pandemic. The study results were released by the company and have not been peer-reviewed.

An independent group of medical advisers monitoring the trial recommended stopping it early because the interim results were so strong.

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