Covid-19 pill shows promise in preliminary tests


An experimental Covid-19 drug that promises to be a kind of Tamiflu for the pandemic had positive results in a preliminary study, one of the drug’s developers said.

The pill, which is being developed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP and Merck MRK 1.33%

& Co., significantly reduced infectious virus in subjects in a mid-stage study after five days of treatment, Ridgeback reported at a virtual meeting of infectious disease scientists Saturday.

More studies are being done on the experimental antiviral. If it proves capable of treating people with Covid-19 who show symptoms, the drug would bolster a limited arsenal of treatments and be the first oral antiviral against the disease.

Understanding the Coronavirus

More than a year after the pandemic, doctors and patients with Covid-19 have few options. Only one antiviral is licensed for use: remdesivir from Gilead Sciences Inc.

, and has been shown to provide only a modest benefit in hospitalized patients, reducing their stays by several days.

The experimental drug, called molnupiravir, could play an important role in also helping people who are sick but still at home, serving the same kind of role as Tamiflu for the flu, say some infectious disease experts.

“It’s tempting and interesting, but it’s not exactly 100% complete,” said Carl Dieffenbach, director of the AIDS Division at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was not involved in the study. “What we have to confirm is that there is a clinical benefit.”

Drug researchers are making an effort to find new Covid-19 drugs to improve the performance of the few currently available therapies and fill gaps in offerings. They are also looking for therapies that are effective against new, rapidly spreading variants of the coronavirus.

“The clear need in this is the development of powerful antivirals that act directly on SARS-CoV-2,” said Anthony Fauci, NIAID director and President Biden’s chief medical adviser at a recent White House briefing, referring to the virus causing the pandemic.

Unlike other drugs that target the spike protein that protrudes from the surface of the virus, molnupiravir targets a part of the virus that helps it reproduce.

The trial of 182 subjects in intermediate stage, or Phase 2, studied the effect of various doses of molnupiravir in people who had developed symptoms of Covid-19 in the previous week, tested positive for the disease in the last four days, and were not hospitalized. .

The tests did not detect infectious viruses in any of the study volunteers who took molnupiravir twice daily after five days of treatment, while 24% of the subjects who received a placebo did, Ridgeback reported in the virtual conference on retroviruses and opportunistic infections.

Subjects who took larger doses of the drug also had lower levels of infectious virus than the placebo group after three days.

Ridgeback Biotherapeutics co-founder Wayne Holman said the results indicate that the drug prevents the new coronavirus from replicating in the body and offers the first proof that an oral antiviral drug may be effective against the virus.

The findings also suggest, but do not prove, that the drug can reduce the disease, said Dr. Holman, who is also the CEO of Ridgeback Capital, an investment firm. Ridgeback Biotherapeutics has an approved treatment for Ebola.

Merck said it may have interim results by the end of this month from two late-stage trials exploring whether molnupiravir helps prevent Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

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