What is molnupiravir?
Molnupiravir is an anti-viral drug developed by Merck and Ridgeback Therapeutics. Like other antiviral treatments, molnupiravir interferes with the ability of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Cvoid-19, to replicate, thus preventing it from spreading and causing symptoms.
Respiratory viruses like influenza and Covid-19 are challenging to treat once symptoms arise. Therefore, antiviral treatments like Tamiflu for the flu, and now molnupiravir for Covid-19 must be administered within the first few days of the infection. Ideally, one should use them right after being exposed to the virus and before they start to show symptoms.
How effective is this new antiviral treatment?
According to the results of the phase 2 trial announced in early March of 2021, molnupiravir proved to be safe. 202 people participated in the trial. After five days, none of the 47 participants who took molnupiravir tested positive for Covid-19, compared to 24% of their peers who received a placebo.
While this is definitely a good sign, more research is needed before the treatment can be distributed to the public. The recent study was small and did not look at what effects molnupiravir has on the course of the actual disease. In other words, researchers now know that the pill kills the virus, but they are yet to find out whether or not the treatment reduces Covid-19 related hospitalizations and deaths.
The goal of the phase 2 trial was to confirm the safety of the drug in a small group of people. Phase 3 trials will be larger and will look more closely at the efficacy of molnupiravir in easing symptoms and lowering the severity of the illness.
Why is COVID-19 treatment needed when we have vaccines?
According to various public health experts, COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at curbing the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, they are not likely to eliminate the disease completely. There is still a risk of new resistant variants of the virus evolving in the future, and not everyone is willing or able to get vaccinated.
“I believe there will be a lot less illness in communities by summer, but I don’t anticipate that COVID-19 will go away for several years,” said Dr. David Herschwerker, an attending physician in infectious diseases at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York.
So, if the elimination of COVID-19 doesn't look feasible at the moment, treatments are necessary for those who do get sick, especially those with mild cases of the illness. Most of the therapies currently available for COVID-19 are for severely ill hospitalized patients.
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A pill that is affordable and can be easily given to patients with a mild form of the disease early on would be extremely helpful. Although most patients in this group would eventually get better on their own, eliminating the virus at an early stage would prevent them from infecting other, more vulnerable individuals.
Besides molnupiravir, there are several other antiviral treatments in the works, but none of them have robust phase 3 results yet. We will continue to update you on any new and vital information. Meanwhile, we all must continue the efforts to prevent spreading the virus and keep ourselves and those around us safe and healthy.
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