• Researchers from Georgia State University discovered that an orally administered antiviral can block coronavirus transmission in ferrets in just 24 hours.
  • Known as MK-4482/EIDD-2801 or Molnupiravir, the drug lowers the amount of virus in the body, which can reduce COVID-19 transmission “dramatically.”
  • The drug can also prevent severe COVID-19 and has the potential of reducing local outbreaks.
  • The researchers will now have to prove the medicine’s efficacy and safety in human trials.

Vaccinations against the novel coronavirus are about to start in the US and Europe, with UK regulators having already approved the Pfizer/BioNTech drug for public use. The FDA will review the same vaccine as well as the Moderna candidate in the coming days, and will likely issue Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for both. The two drugs use the same RNA technology to deliver the payload and teach the immune system to create proteins and white blood cells that will fight the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus in the event of an infection. Both drugs are around 95% effective at preventing severe illness, and they were found to be safe for use. But people who will choose to get vaccinated will have to be aware of three important details about vaccines.

First, COVID-19 immunity following vaccination kicks in at least a week after the second shot, which is more than a month after the first shot. Second, vaccines might not block an actual infection with SARS-CoV-2, so vaccinated people might still be able to spread the illness. That’s why face mask use will still be required. And third, these vaccines can’t be used to treat an existing infection.

Vaccines alone can’t deliver an immediate end to the pandemic. The world also needs better therapies that can reduce the risk of complications and death. COVID-19 isn’t likely to be eradicated, so we might have to deal with the infectious illness for years to come, just like the flu. Now, doctors involved in COVID-19 cure research from Georgia State University think they have a great candidate to help accomplish that goal: an antiviral administered orally might block a person from spreading COVID-19 in just 24 hours.

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Known as MK-4482, EIDD-2801, or Molnupiravir, the antiviral “completely suppresses virus transmission within 24 hours,” according to researchers from the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State.

“This is the first demonstration of an orally available drug to rapidly block SARS-CoV-2 transmission,” GSU Professor Dr. Richard Plemper said in a statement. “MK-4482/EIDD-2801 could be game-changing.” The study was published in Nature Microbiology.

The group that Plemper leads discovered that the new drug is potent against flu viruses, but it can apparently stop virus shedding (or transmission) in COVID-19 cases as well.

“We noted early on that MK-4482/EIDD-2801 has broad-spectrum activity against respiratory RNA viruses and that treating infected animals by mouth with the drug lowers the amount of shed viral particles by several orders of magnitude, dramatically reducing transmission,” Plemper said. “These properties made MK-4482/EIDD/2801 a powerful candidate for pharmacologic control of COVID-19.”

The drug has three advantages, according to the researchers. It can prevent progression to severe illness, shorten the infectious phase, and “rapidly silence local outbreaks.”

Typically, a coronavirus patient is most infectious two days after the onset of symptoms, and he or she continues to shed the virus for at least five days after that, according to the most recent data. A drug that can reduce the virus’s multiplication inside the body would lower the viral load significantly in patients. If there’s not enough virus in the body, patients will experience milder symptoms, if any. They’ll also be less likely to infect others.

The efficacy of MK-4482/EIDD-2801 has to be proven in double-blind, placebo-controlled human trials before the drug can be used in COVID-19 therapy. But the GSU researchers have shown the drug works in testing that involved ferrets.

“We believe ferrets are a relevant transmission model because they readily spread SARS-CoV-2, but mostly do not develop severe disease, which closely resembles SARS-CoV-2 spread in young adults,” study co-lead Dr. Robert Cox said in a statement.

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The researchers infected the animals with SARS-CoV-2 and started MK-4482/EIDD-2801 therapy when the animals started shedding the virus from the nose. The researchers then exposed healthy ferrets to those that received the drug and did the same thing for the placebo group. The treated animals did not infect any of the healthy ferrets in the same cages. The infected ferrets that received a placebo instead of Molnupiravir infected all their healthy contacts.

The researchers say the MK-4482/EIDD-2801 drug is in advanced Phase 2/3 clinical trials, but it’s unclear when conclusions will be available. The drug will have to show both efficacy and safety in these trials to reach the EUA stage. If there is one thing to know about MK-4482/EIDD-2801, it’s that it caused some controversies earlier this year. Merck owns the potentially game-changing antiviral, and the company addressed safety concerns this summer.

The full study is available at this link.

Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he’s not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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