Coronavirus: Pill that fights COVID-19 virus showing promise in trials

Trials of an experimental drug that would fight the COVID-19 virus appear to show the medication stops the virus from replicating in the body, making it the first oral antiviral to do so, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.

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The drug, called molnupiravir, is being developed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and is in pill form.

“We are very pleased to share our initial Phase 2 infectivity data,” Dr. Wendy Painter, chief medical officer of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, said.

The Phase 2 results were presented at the virtual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.

Other researchers stressed that while the results are promising, more trials are needed.

“It’s tantalizing and interesting, but it’s not exactly 100% complete,” Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Journal. Dieffenbach wasn’t involved in the study.

“What we need to confirm is that there’s clinical benefit,” he said.

According to its developers, the drug would act much as the antiviral flu drug Tamiflu operates, by attacking a portion of the virus that helps it to reproduce.

The trial studied the effect of various doses of molnupiravir in people who had developed COVID-19 symptoms within the previous week, tested positive for the disease during the most recent four days and weren’t hospitalized, the Journal reported.

No virus was detected in any participant who took molnupiravir twice a day for five days, Ridgeback reported at the conference.

“The secondary objective findings in this study, of a quicker decrease in infectious virus among individuals with early COVID-19 treated with molnupiravir, are promising and if supported by additional studies, could have important public health implications,” said Dr. William Fischer, associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

The drug was tested on 202 people. While no infection was found in those taking the drug, the COVID-19 virus was found in 24% of those who received a placebo, according to the company.

“We continue to make progress in our Phase 2/3 clinical programs evaluating molnupiravir in both outpatient and hospital settings and plan to provide updates when appropriate,” said Dr. Roy Baynes, senior vice president, head of global clinical development and chief medical officer of Merck Research Laboratories.

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