Anti-viral pill 'molnupiravir' showing promise in treating COVID-19 patients

A pill that could stop coronavirus in its tracks is being tested in clinical trials and, so far, the results look promising -- and not just for COVID-19. Researchers hope it will be able to treat other viruses, as well.

It's not yet approved for use in the general public, but early results from clinical trials have researchers hopeful it'll succeed.

"This may be one of those things that could be extremely useful on a broad level against a number of different viruses," University of South Florida professor Dr. Michael Teng said.

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The drug known as molnupiravir was developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. It's intended to be taken as early as the first day someone tests positive for COVID-19, essentially freezing the virus from multiplying and, ultimately, mitigating the symptoms.

As Dr. Teng explains, it could be a game-changer in preventing severe illness in someone who contracts the novel coronavirus. 

"It might be one of those drugs, you know, fingers crossed, that it doesn't matter what virus you have, if you have these respiratory symptoms and take this drug, it will probably hit this," Teng said.

So far, the pill has completed two of three phases in clinical trials, where a total of 182 coronavirus-positive patients were studied. After phase two, researchers say the virus was not detectable in patients who took the drug.

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Teng says it's a victory because most experimental drugs don't pass the first phase.

"We've been searching for broad-spectrum anti-virals for some time and if this turns out to be one of them, that would be fantastic," Teng said.

If approved, the drug would require a prescription and function as an at-home, five-day treatment, similar to Tamiflu.

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The only other widely-available treatment thought to be effective against fighting the virus is an antibody infusion called remdesivir, which can only be administered in the hospital via injection.

The next phase will be to test molnupiravir on thousands of positive patients, which will be a major challenge considering more and more people are being vaccinated. Dr. Teng estimates it could be a year before the pill is approved.