Merck says COVID-19 antiviral pill effective against variants

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Molnupiravir, an experimental oral COVID-19 antiviral drug, could potentially be effective against all known variants of the coronavirus, according to its producer, a drug company called Merck. 

Molnupiravir works by targeting the enzyme needed for the virus to make copies of itself and introduces errors into the virus’s genetic code. This curtains the patient’s viral load, shortening the duration of the illness and mitigating serious symptoms.

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According to Timothy Sheahan, a virologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who helped pioneer these therapies, "Oral antivirals have the potential to not only curtail the duration of one’s COVID-19 syndrome but also have the potential to limit transmission to people in your household if you are sick." 

The medication could be equally effective as the virus continues to evolve and different strains develop. 

Molnupiravir would be used after diagnosis and is thus not a replacement for vaccination, but it can help reduce transmission.

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At last week’s annual meeting of infectious disease organizations, Merck presented an analysis of its findings on molnupiravir. 

In a trial earlier this year, the company enrolled nonhospitalized, COVID-19 patients who have had symptoms for more than five days, and were at risk for covid complications. When treated with molnupiravir, none of the patients tested positive after five days, while 24% of placebo patients did.

The drug is currently in Phase III trials, and Merck expects to complete the third phase in early November. 

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Pfizer is working on its own oral antiviral, as is Roche and Atea Pharmaceuticals. 

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