A Broad Spectrum Antiviral? Trial Data Soon May Reveal if Merck Pill Can Limit Covid

Bloomberg Businessweek March 29, 2021 pp42-47 “How About A Covid Pill? “Vaccines are great and all, but molnupiravir, an antiviral drug in late-stage trials, could give doctors another major tool to end the pandemic-if, of course, it proves safe and effective.” By Gynthia Koons and Riley Griffin

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Summary of the Article

Molnupiravir* (MV) a modified nucleoside analogue suppresses viral reproduction. MV “introduces errors into the virus's RNA that are then replicated until it’s defunct…preventing a threat from causing severe infection.” MV, is a class of drugs first used in 1963 for the topical treatment of herpes. Topical application only out of concerns that this class of drugs may cause mutations in human DNA. In part, out of concern regarding its mutagenic potential, MV was modified as a pro-drug pill-that is a drug that takes on the active form in the blood only following oral ingestion. Early studies on MV shows its potential to limit SARS-CoV-2 but not cause mutations in mammalian cells. More study is underway.

Merck has formed an alliance with the developers at Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and is performing “large-scale trials that could get authorization by regulators.” Merck also has the capability for large scale production that would be needed to help alleviate Covid-19. Ultimately, there is hope that MV could be a broad-spectrum antiviral. “’It could be a $1 billion or $10 billion product’ depending on how the data turns out says Mara Goldstein (Mizuho Securities).” Even better news according to Timothy Sheahan (University of North Carolina, see figures above) “thinks that, as soon as a year or two from now, there will bill far more antivirals than there are today. He says, ”’The things that we will have at our disposal if another coronavirus emerges will be black-and-white compared to what we have today.’”

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