Molnupiravir, Merck's new Antiviral Drug can be a boon in Covid recovery

Thousands of lives have been lost due to Covid 19 and the world has been looking for solutions to fight the virus. A new scientific breakthrough has given promising hope to cut hospitalizations in half for at-risk Covid-19 patients. The pharmaceutical giant Merck on Friday reported good news for people sick with Covid-19: Its new antiviral drug Molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization and death in at-risk patients by 50 percent, according to the company’s interim analysis.

The trial results showed that the pill is effective for patients at risk of severe disease or at least one risk factor associated such as obesity or older age. The analysis which had more than 700 patients, found that around 7.3 percent of patients who received Molnupiravir had died or were hospitalized, compared to 14.1 percent of patients who were in the placebo group (meaning they did not receive the drug).

After 29 days of monitoring, no deaths were reported in patients who received Molnupiravir, as compared to eight deaths in those who received placebo.

Merck says Molnupiravir was also effective against coronavirus variants, including gamma, delta, and mu.

Molnupiravir, originally developed to treat influenza, could solve many of these challenges. It’s administered as a twice-a-day pill for five days, compared to other Covid-19 treatments that require expensive intravenous transfusions, such as monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma. The antiviral drug Remdesivir, currently the only drug with full Food and Drug Administration approval to treat Covid-19, also has to be delivered into the bloodstream.

A drug like Molnupiravir (the name is a reference to Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir) could also help compensate for persistent gaps in Covid-19 vaccination coverage, both in the United States and abroad.

How Molnupiravir drug works

Viruses, unlike bacteria, are tricky infectious agents. They can’t reproduce on their own, instead, they get their genetic information incorporated into the host’s DNA and uses the host cell machinery for multiplying into more virus particles.

Molnupiravir works a lot like the antiviral drug Remdesivir. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, makes copies of itself by encoding instructions on the RNA molecule, which is made up of “nitrogen base” molecules identified by the letters A, C, U, and G. While Remdesivir imitates A (adenosine), Molnupiravir can mimic U (uracil) or C (cytosine).

When the virus incorporates Remdesivir into its RNA, the drug causes its reproductive cycle to stall. Molnupiravir works a little differently, causing genetic mutations that hamper the virus.

Crucially, these drugs can fool the virus, but they don’t fool human cells, so they have a targeted effect and for the most part, leave the human cells alone.

Merck didn’t note any specific side effects from Molnupiravir in its press release and said the rate of complications was similar between the placebo group and the treatment group in the clinical trial. Unspecified side effects occurred in 35 per cent of Molnupiravir recipients but occurred in 40 per cent of the placebo group.

However, other measures beyond drugs still remain critical too.

Wearing masks, social distancing, and testing for Covid-19 are still effective, and the arrival of an effective drug won’t be a reason to let our guard down. The existing pillars of pandemic response will remain crucial to keeping this deadly disease in check.

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