New experimental drug stops COVID-19 in its tracks

CHINA - 2020/03/23: In this photo illustration the American multinational pharmaceutical company Merck logo seen displayed on a smartphone with a computer model of the COVID-19 coronavirus on the background. (Photo Illustration by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — After Merck’s failed attempt at a coronavirus vaccine, the pharmaceutical company has shifted its efforts to therapeutics. 

The firm — in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics — announced preliminary results from their Phase 2a randomized clinical trial designed to evaluate the “safety, tolerability, and efficacy” to eliminate the coronavirus in infected patients using the antiviral drug molnupiravir.  

“Molnupiravir is a medication that is used to slow down the replication of the virus,” Dr. Cole Beeler, infectious disease specialist at IU Health, told News 8. “It stalls its ability to make more copies of itself.

This is good news, he says, because that’s exactly what happened. Patients who got the medication, compared to patients who got the placebo, stopped shedding the virus faster.

Beeler was not part of the research team. 

“We are very pleased to share our initial Phase 2 infectivity data at this important conference, which remains at the forefront for critical clinical scientific information in infectious diseases,” said Dr. Wendy Painter, chief medical officer of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, in a news release.At a time where there is an unmet need for antiviral treatments against SARS-CoV-2, we are encouraged by these preliminary data.”

Beeler’s message to Hoosiers is to remain cautiously optimistic. While antiviral treatments in the form of a pill would be much easier and less invasive compared to intravenous treatments, there’s still more work to be done. 

“What we really need is to link a medication like this and have data on the potential for the medication to decrease symptoms, to decrease transmission events, hospitalizations and deaths. And we don’t yet have that data. Until that comes out this is still just a promising potential as opposed to something people should start hanging their hats on.”