An antiviral drug originally developed to treat influenza has recently reduced hospitalization and death from COVID-19 by 50 percent in patients infected with the virus, preliminary trial results suggest.
It is hoped that the drug, taken as a pill, will be able to play a major role in treating people who test positive for COVID and preventing their infection from turning into a serious illness.
The drug, known as molnupiravir, is manufactured by pharmaceutical company Merck, which said it intends to apply for emergency use authorization in the US within the next two weeks.
In the UK, the chairman of the Antiviral Taskforce has signaled the government’s interest in buying supplies of the drug, given its potential to keep infected people out of hospital.
“We’ve been involved in taking a closer look at all the options available, but we’re not really in a position to give details about specific conversations at this time,” chairman Eddie Gray said at a briefing after Merck’s results were published.
Molanupiravir works by interfering with an enzyme that the virus uses to replicate, preventing it from spreading further throughout the body.
If authorized for use, it would be the first oral antiviral drug for COVID-19. There are currently two accepted methods of treating the disease: using steroids, such as dexamethasone, or administering lab-designed antibodies intravenously.
Merck’s trial data is specific to 775 adults with mild to moderate Covid who were deemed to be at high risk of serious illness due to health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease.
Of the half of the patients who took molanupiravir twice a day, 7.3 percent were hospitalized within 30 days. This compares with 14.1 percent of the other group of patients who were given the placebo pill.
The drug also appeared to cut the risk of death by half, although the numbers are small and experts have warned against over-interpreting the data. There were no deaths in the molnupiravir group, while eight of those receiving the placebo died of covid.
Upon seeing the results, the US drug regulator recommended an early halt to the phase three trial to begin the process of applying for emergency authorization.
“I wondered what the drug might be able to do in this clinical trial,” Dr. Dean Lee, Merck Research vice president, said of the interim findings. “When you see a 50 percent reduction in hospitalizations or deaths, that’s a substantial clinical effect.”
Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, said the interim results are “very encouraging”.
“A safe, economical and effective oral antiviral would be a major advance in the fight against Covid,” he said.
Prof Horby indicated he would like to assess mollupiravir as part of the UK recovery trial, which aims to identify drugs that could be used to treat adults hospitalized with COVID-19 . The trial previously showed that dexamethasone reduces mortality in hospitalized patients.
“It will also need to be studied in hospitalized patients if we think it will benefit them,” he said. Granthshala. “This would be something we would be interested in including in recovery testing based on what we’ve seen.”
Merck’s vice president for infectious diseases discovery, Daria Hazuda, said the company is “committed to making this drug increasingly available in the UK”.
However, Mr Gray declined to give further details during Friday’s press conference. “The emergence of phase three data tends to accelerate all these kinds of processes, but I can’t give you a specific date,” he said.
Nonetheless, he indicated that the UK would like to buy the drug, saying: “I have chosen to come here today. Read in what you want.”
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /