Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics announced on Friday early result that indicate their experimental oral antiviral drug molnupiravir might halve the risk of death or hospitalization from Covid-19.
In a news release, the company said 7.3% of 385 patients who received the antiviral were either hospitalized or died from Covid-19, compared with 14.1% of the 377 patients who received a placebo, which does nothing. Full data from the molnupiravir trial has not yet been released, and this data has not yet been peer-reviewed or published. But Merck says it will seek authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration, and if it’s granted, the drug could be the first antiviral treatment available orally to fight Covid-19.
“This is the most impactful result that I remember seeing of an orally available drug in the treatment of a respiratory pathogen, perhaps ever,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday. “I think getting an oral pill that can inhibit viral replication — that can inhibit this virus — is going to be a real game changer.” Antiviral treatments are a type of antimicrobial — treatments which kill or otherwise inhibit the development of microorganisms such as bacteria (fought by antibiotics), fungi (fought by antifungals), or, in this case, a virus.
Some of the more familiar antivirals are those developed to treat herpes, HIV and the flu. “Most people have heard of Tamiflu, and they’ve heard of acyclovir,” said Dr. Myron Cohen, a professor of medicine, microbiology, immunology and epidemiology at the University of North Carolina. Acyclovir is a type of antiviral used to treat chickenpox, herpes and shingles. “We didn’t develop a ton of other antivirals,” he said.