Pharmaceutical company Merck has completed a phase III trial of a new coronavirus drug and is preparing to approve its use. The US government has decided to be proactive and has ordered 1.7 million full courses of the pills. The drug is called molnupiravir.Molnupiravir was developed a few years before the coronavirus pandemic as a universal remedy against RNA viruses - primarily to counteract influenza. At the end of 2019, the drug was ready for clinical trials, but the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 forced scientists to tackle a redesign of the drug. The new version was received by May 2020, and Merck put a lot of effort into launching phase II trials in 20 countries by October.
A year later, in August 2021, an independent commission decided to terminate the trial due to complete success. Taking molnupiravir tablets within the first five days of onset of COVID-19 symptoms has been shown to reduce the risk of severe disease by 50%. More importantly, no deaths have been reported and the form of the medicine, tablets instead of injections, is accepted favourably by most patients.
The principle of action of molnupiravir is based on interference with the replication mechanism of the virus genes, which significantly complicates its reproduction and gives the immune system a chance to cope with the infection. The authors of the development acknowledge that there is a risk of negative effects on the body's own cells, but no side-effects have been identified during the research. A five-day course of molnupiravir is expected to cost $700, but Merck promises to develop a cheaper equivalent for less affluent countries.