A preliminary study shows that molnupiravir, an experimental antiviral drug, significantly reduced infectious virus in COVID-19 patients after five days of treatment.
The drug is being developed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Merck, with the companies sharing the study's results on Saturday. Testing is ongoing, and if further results show the drug can treat COVID-19 patients exhibiting symptoms, it could be the first oral antiviral used to fight the disease, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The preliminary results are from a Phase 2 trial, which studied the effect of different doses in 182 people who had first reported COVID-19 symptoms within the previous week, tested positive during the most recent four days, and were not hospitalized. After five days, tests were unable to detect infectious virus in volunteers who took molnupiravir twice a day. Among those who received placebos, infectious virus was found in 24 percent of participants. The study also found that after three days, volunteers who took larger doses had lower levels of infectious virus than those who took the placebo.
Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Journal the study is "tantalizing and interesting, but it's not exactly 100 percent complete. What we need to confirm is that there's clinical benefit." So far, the only antiviral that has been authorized for use in COVID-19 patients is remdesivir, which studies have found modestly benefits hospitalized patients by shortening their stays.