Covid-19 Pill Shows Promise in Preliminary Testing
By Betsy McKay
An experimental Covid-19 drug that promises to be a kind of
Tamiflu for the pandemic had positive results in a preliminary
study, one of the drug's developers said.
The pill, which is being developed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics
LP and Merck & Co. , significantly reduced infectious virus in
subjects in a mid-stage study after five days of treatment,
Ridgeback is reporting at a virtual meeting of infectious-disease
Further study of the experimental antiviral is under way. If it
proves capable of treating people with Covid-19 who show symptoms,
the drug would bolster a limited arsenal of treatments and be the
first oral antiviral against the disease.
More than a year into the pandemic, doctors and Covid-19
patients have few options. Only one antiviral has been authorized
for use: remdesivir from Gilead Sciences Inc. , and it has shown to
provide only a modest benefit in hospitalized patients, reducing
their stays by several days.
The experimental drug, named molnupiravir, could fill an
important role by also helping people who are sick but still at
home, serving the same kind of role performed by Tamiflu for the
flu, some infectious-disease experts say.
"It's tantalizing and interesting, but it's not exactly 100%
complete," said Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS
at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who
wasn't involved in the study. "What we need to confirm is that
there's clinical benefit."
Drug researchers are making a push to find new Covid-19 drugs to
improve upon the performance of the few currently available
therapies and fill in gaps in the offerings. They also are looking
for therapies that are effective against new coronavirus variants
that are spreading rapidly.
"The clear need in this is the development of potent antivirals
directly acting on SARS-CoV-2," Anthony Fauci, director of the
NIAID and President Biden's chief medical adviser said a recent
White House briefing, referring to the virus causing the
Unlike other drugs targeting the spike protein protruding from
the surface of the virus, molnupiravir attacks a portion of the
virus that helps it reproduce.
The 182-subject mid-stage, or Phase 2, trial studied the effect
of various doses of molnupiravir in people who had developed
Covid-19 symptoms within the previous week, tested positive for the
disease during the most recent four days and weren't
Tests didn't detect infectious virus in any of the study
volunteers who took molnupiravir twice a day after five days of
treatment, while 24% of subjects who received a placebo did,
Ridgeback reported at the virtual Conference on Retroviruses and
Subjects who took larger doses of the drug also had lower levels
of infectious virus than the placebo group after three days.
Ridgeback Biotherapeutics co-founder Wayne Holman said the
results indicate the drug prevents the new coronavirus from
replicating in the body and offer the first proof that an oral
antiviral drug can be effective against the virus.
The findings also suggest, but don't prove, that the drug can
reduce illness, said Dr. Holman, who is also the chief executive of
Ridgeback Capital, an investment firm. Ridgeback Biotherapeutics
has an approved treatment for Ebola.
Merck said it may have interim results by the end of this month
of two late-stage trials exploring whether molnupiravir helps
prevent Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 06, 2021 00:15 ET (05:15 GMT)
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