The antiviral drug molnupiravir may be a solution for the treatment of patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, according to preliminary data from the clinical trial presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, which took place online in early March 2021.
The data presented at the conference refer to 78 people who had a positive PCR test on the day of recruitment for the clinical trial and who had already developed symptoms during the week leading up to this test. Of the 52 patients who took the drug molnupiravir twice daily for five days, in 20.4% it was still possible to detect the virus after three days, but none after five days, wrote the authors in the summary presented at the conference.
In relation to the 26 people who were subjected to a placebo treatment (different from the real treatment), 28% still had the virus at the end of the third day and 24% after five days.
The data, presented as promising – although preliminary – must be interpreted with some caution. First because at the end of the third and fifth days, the authors did not use a PCR test, but another less sensitive test (the swab sample is cultured with laboratory cells to see if they become infected), therefore less able to detect positives. Still, these results can be a good approximation to reality.
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Then, according to the Merck statement, none of the 47 participants taking the drug had signs of infection at the end of the fifth day. The problem is that 52 patients were included in this arm of the experiment and no reference is made to what happened to the other five volunteers. One of the volunteers who took the placebo is also missing. The statement said that “of the four serious adverse effects reported, none were considered to be related to the study drug”, but no further details are provided.
Finally, the results have not yet been published in a scientific journal, with independent review, and the trial only included Covid-19 patients who were not hospitalized, therefore with the milder forms of the disease and who have an easier time recovering from the infection.
We continue to move forward with phase 2/3 clinical trials for evaluating molnupiravir in outpatient and hospital settings and plan to provide updates when appropriate, ”said Roy Baynes, vice president and head of global clinical development at Merck Research Laboratories, in a statement press release.
This drug has been tested in animal models and has already completed the first phase of clinical trials, proving to be safe and well tolerated in humans. This medicine aims to prevent the replication of RNA viruses, such as coronaviruses. Previously, it had been tested in patients infected with SARS and MERS, in the same family as SARS-CoV-2.
The research and clinical trials of molnupiravir carried out by biopharmaceutical Ridgeback were funded by pharmacist Merck and the couple Wayne and Wendy Holman – who are the last and first author of the article presented at the conference, and Wendy is the executive director of Ridgeback.
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