COVID-19 has continued to ravage different parts of the world despite vaccine breakthroughs. The disease presents a challenge for many governments due to poor access to COVID-19 vaccines and emerging disease variants. More importantly, there is growing skepticism about the newly developed COVID vaccines due to misinformation, causing many to refuse vaccination.
However, COVID antiviral pills offer a new promise and might help improve the prospects for those who get infected with the coronavirus. So far, not many drugs have been shown to arrest the progression of COVID-19 to severe disease. However, molnupiravir might be the game-changer everyone has been looking for since the coronavirus outbreak begun in 2019.
Molnupiravir is an experimental Covid-19 antiviral drug that patients can take orally. It is a product of Merck & Co, a pharmaceutical giant with headquarters in Kenilworth, New Jersey.
The fact that this drug is in a pill form adds convenience to COVID-19 treatment. It follows that all approved COVID-19 treatments currently require injection or intravenous administration. Therefore, it has to be done in a hospital by a qualified health provider, stretching an already thin health care workforce. As noted, molnupiravir will eliminate this need and significantly ease the pressure on healthcare facilities across the globe, given that patients can take this COVID-19 pill at home.
But how effective is this oral COVID antiviral pill? Recent research suggests that molnupiravir is about 50 percent effective in reducing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths if taken early in the course of the disease. During the experimental phase, researchers gave molnupiravir to patients with mild-to-moderate. They subsequently assessed its effectiveness in lowering the risk of hospitalization and death against a placebo or dummy pills.
The researchers found that only 7.3 percent of the 775 patients included in the study got hospitalized despite having diabetes mellitus, older age, obesity, or heart disease. As noted, these conditions generally lead to poor COVID-19 outcomes and increase the risk of death. For patients taking dummy pills, the incidence of hospitalization and death was higher at about 14.1 Percent. Thus, these findings demonstrate that molnupiravir significantly improves outcomes for COVID-19 patients.
The antiviral pill could help manage coronavirus in patients with chronic conditions and other factors that generally predict poor disease outcomes. In addition, preclinical research demonstrated that molnupiravir could prevent COVID-19 transmission and work as a prophylaxis therapy for this disease. Current evidence further suggests that this antiviral drug is effective against common COVID-19 variants, including the most concerning and dominant, the Delta variant.
The pill gives new hope to millions with no access to COVID-19 vaccines or booster shots. It will help those in the remotest parts of the world who face different barriers to health care. It also adds a new dimension to the current fight against the pandemic and might serve as a cheaper option for the world’s poorest.
Molnupiravir could also reduce the expense around COVID-19 treatment and break the accessibility barriers experienced in many parts globally. In any case, people have had to contend with expensive infusion therapies that are not available to everyone due to cost, expertise, storage constraints. However, a newly disclosed voluntary license agreement with generic drug manufacturers will see low- and middle-income countries access molnupiravir more readily and at an affordable price. The move makes the prospects of managing the COVID-19 pandemic even better for all across the world.
Despite its potential, molnupiravir has not received FDA approval for use in COVID-19 treatment. However, Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, its partner, have expressed their intent to seek U.S. emergency use authorization and apply for similar regulatory approvals elsewhere. For now, the world will have to wait and see how this plays out.