The pharmaceutical giant Merck and a U.S. lab have announced that an oral medication they have been developing against coronavirus reduced patients’ viral load during trials.
“At a time where there is unmet need for antiviral treatments against SARS-CoV-2, we are encouraged by these preliminary data,” Wendy Painter, chief medical officer of the US firm, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, said in a press release.
Merck interrupted work on two potential vaccines against COVID-19 in late January, but continued research on two oral treatments against the virus, including Molnupiravir, developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
Molnupiravir significantly reduced patients’ viral load after five days of treatment, the U.S. company indicated on Saturday at a meeting with infectious disease specialists.
Vaccine trials need to complete three phases before they can be marketed. Phase 2a of the test of the new medication was done on 202 COVID-19 patients who showed symptoms but had not been hospitalised. There was no alert in terms of safety and while four adverse events were reported, none were reported to be related to taking the drug, the laboratory said.
Oral medication like Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza) is sometimes prescribed against seasonal flu, but researchers have had a hard time coming up with a similar antiviral against COVID-19.
The findings of the study, “a quicker decrease in viral load among individuals with early-stage Covid-19 who are treated with Molnupiravir, are promising,” said William Fischer, the study’s lead investigator and a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina.
“If supported by additional studies, (they) could have important public health implications, particularly as the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to spread and evolve globally,” Fischer added.
Merck is also working on another oral treatment against COVID-19 called MK-711. Preliminary results from clinical trials with it show a more than 50 percent reduction in risk of death or respiratory trouble in patients hospitalized with moderate to severe Covid-19, the company said in January.