Merck says its COVID-19 antiviral drug works against virus variants

Merck said Sept. 29 that its experimental COVID-19 antiviral drug, molnupiravir, was shown to be effective against virus variants in clinical trials, The Hill reported. 

Jay Grobler, PhD, the drugmaker's head of infectious disease and vaccines, said in a presentation at IDWeek, an annual meeting of infectious disease organizations, that ​​molnupiravir has shown to be most effective when given to patients soon after infection, according to The Hill. It's being designed to treat patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at risk of developing severe disease. 

Because the drug doesn't target the virus' spike protein, which is what differentiates the variants, molnupiravir is able to effectively combat the variants, Merck said. Instead of the spike protein, it targets an enzyme that allows the virus to make copies of itself.  

Merck is developing molnupiravir in partnership with Miami, Fla.-based Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. It's currently in phase 3 trials, and Merck CEO Robert Davis said this month that the company expects data from the trial within weeks on whether it can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19. An FDA emergency use authorization application could come before the end of the year, he said.

Merck announced results from a phase 2 trial of the drug — which has previously been studied as a potential Ebola treatment — in March, saying it eliminated the virus in trial participants with symptomatic disease after five days of treatment. 

The U.S. government signed a deal in June to purchase 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir for $1.2 billion if it's authorized by the FDA. 


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