New antiviral oral drug molnupiravir completely suppresses coronavirus transmission within 24 hours in ferrets, claims study
Researchers claim that MK-4482/EIDD-2801 or molnupiravir is the first orally available drug to quickly block SARS-CoV-2 and has the potential of being ground-breaking
From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus of the global scientific and healthcare research community has been to either discover new treatment options or vaccines that can kill SARS-CoV-2 or repurpose old drugs to treat and cure the infection without major side-effects. The World Health Organisation started its Solidarity Trials to look at the efficacy of pre-existing drugs like remdesivir, chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, and antiretroviral drugs.
This list soon included more drugs like ivermectin, favipiravir, metformin, aspirin, amodiaquine, zuclopenthixol, and nebivolol. By June 2020, an Oxford study had declared that the steroid drug dexamethasone can help treat severely-ill COVID-19 patients and in November, scientists were even evaluating hepatitis C drugs for their efficacy against SARS-CoV-2. But despite these advances, the search for a highly-effective drug that could act on SARS-CoV-2 from the very onset of the COVID-19 infection provided limited results.
How a drug for influenza works for SARS-CoV-2
The findings of a new study published in Nature Microbiology might be a turning point. The study, published by researchers at the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, Georgia State University, reveals that a new antiviral drug has been designed which successfully suppresses the SARS-CoV-2 virus and inhibits transmission within 24 hours.
The researchers claim that MK-4482/EIDD-2801 or molnupiravir is the first orally available drug to quickly block SARS-CoV-2 and has the potential of being ground-breaking. Molnupiravir is being developed by biotechnology company Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in collaboration with pharmaceutical firm Merck.
The researchers report in the study that they had developed an orally deliverable ribonucleoside analogue inhibitor that worked against the influenza viruses and witnessing its efficacy, they decided to repurpose the drug for use against SARS-CoV-2. The drug, molnupiravir, is now in phase II/III clinical trials but has been tested to be successful against the virus in ferrets.
The scientists revealed that they chose to test the drug on ferrets instead of mice or guinea pigs because the presentation of SARS-CoV-2 in ferrets resembles that of young-adult human populations. This means that ferrets too are more likely to experience asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic COVID-19 infection during which they transmit the disease to other ferrets very rapidly. This similarity gave the researchers a chance to estimate how delivering the drug can effectively control the spread of COVID-19 . So, the researchers inoculated the ferrets with SARS-CoV-2 and observed their viral load peak in the upper respiratory tract on the third day after the inoculation.
The quick effects of molnupiravir
Once the ferrets were treated with molnupiravir — it was administered twice daily — some very promising results were found. When the dosing started within 12 hours after the viral load was at its peak and infection shedding began, the infectious particle became undetectable within 24 hours of the start of treatment. When the first dose of molnupiravir was administered 36 hours after the viral load peaked and shedding began, the drug was able to completely suppress the release of infectious virions within 36 hours. This not only indicates that the drug works on ferrets with SARS-CoV-2 viral infection but also that it works fastest when administered as early as possible.
It’s due to these promising findings that the researchers concluded that the oral administration of the drug molnupiravir can have three potential benefits:
- It can stop the progress of the infection and prevent severe disease and adverse outcomes
- It can reduce the total duration of the infection, which in turn can ease the physical, emotional and socio-economic toll of the disease on the patients, especially during isolation
- It can rapidly control local outbreaks if delivered to populations that have a high-transmissibility
So, while further clinical trials need to be conducted before this new antiviral oral drug can be released for public use, the findings of this study do bring new hope for successfully suppressing the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
For more information, read our article on Viral load.
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