An orally administered antiviral drug originally designed to treat influenza can dramatically reduce novel coronavirus levels in hamsters and is in the final stages of human trials, indicating the possibility of a pill to fight Covid-19, according to researchers.
MK-4482, also known as Molnupiravir, was found to be successful when given up to 12 hours before or after infection with SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that triggers Covid-19, as per researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States and the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom.
According to the study conducted on hamsters, the medication can also reduce the harm Covid-19 does to the lungs, reports Healthshots.
Treatment with MK-4482, which was published in the journal Nature Communications on April 16, could potentially reduce high-risk SARS-CoV-2 exposure and could be used to treat proven SARS-CoV-2 infection alone or in combination with other agents.
"In contrast to vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, we really don't have many drugs that are effective against the virus," said Michael Jarvis, associate professor of Virology and Immunology at the University of Plymouth and a guest researcher at NIH.
"This is an exciting result that identifies MK-4482 as an additional antiviral against SARS-CoV-2," he said, adding, "The drug, also called Molnupiravir, is in the final stages of human clinical trials in SARS-CoV-2 infected patients," he added.
If human evidence confirms a similar antiviral effect, it may be used as an orally administered pill following virus exposure, similar to how Tamiflu is used for influenza, according to the researchers.
"I think this additional control measure could prove to be really useful in the current pandemic," Jarvis added.
Though Remdesivir has already been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorization (EUA) it must be provided intravenously, making its use primarily limited to clinical settings at later stages of the disease.
May be an oral drug can help in beating Covid-19
The research group developed a model last year which uses hamsters to mimic SARS-CoV-2 infection and mild disease in people.
The current research involved three groups of hamsters — a pre-infection treatment group, a post-infection treatment group and an untreated control group.
The scientists administered MK-4482 orally in the two treatment groups every 12 hours for three days.
Their study found that the animals in each of the treatment groups had 100 times less infectious virus in their lungs than the control group.
Animals in the two treatment groups also had significantly fewer lesions or tissue damage in the lungs than the control group, according to the researchers.
The researchers noted that MK-4482 has been shown to inhibit the replication of other related human coronaviruses, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in mouse models.
In their earlier research, the team determined the inhibitory effect of the drug on SARS-CoV-2 replication in human lung cells in the laboratory.
The treatment resulted in a significant decrease in SARS-CoV-2 replication when compared to no drug controls, they said.
The drug also demonstrated only minimal cellular toxicity.