What is molnupiravir and where did it come from?
Development of molnupiravir began in 2013 at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, with the aim to find a treatment for equine encephalitis virus infection – a mosquito-borne virus found among humans and animals in the Americas. Its success in preventing RNA viruses from spreading, including influenza, led developers Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) to apply for drug testing permissions in humans. They placed a subsequent request to test against Covid-19 when research revealed its potential as an effective treatment against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid.
Clinical studies suggest that molnupiravir may prevent hospitalisation or death in patients with Covid-19 by as much as 50%.
Are there any known side effects?
Early studies into molnupiravir suggest headaches and diarrhea were common side effects. Though it’s important to note the diversity of participants in this trial was limited: most being healthy, Caucasian males. The next stage of clinical trials will evaluate the data on a broader scale, involving 1, 332 participants across 17 different countries. Researchers will be assessing the quality, safety and effectiveness of molnupiravir and examining whether early treatment can prevent the spread of Covid-19 within households containing one Covid-infected person.
What makes molnupiravir different from other Covid treatments?
Molnupiravir is a pill that can be taken orally. This means it could be self-administered in the early stages of infection. Covid vaccines or monoclonal antibody (mAbs) treatments on the other hand, like Ronapreve which was approved by the UK medicines regulator in August, must be injected or infused by a healthcare professional in hospitals or at a medical facility.
Additional benefits of molnupiravir are that it can be produced in large quantities at a low cost, and it does not require storage in below-freezing temperatures like the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The drug therefore provides an affordable solution to the treatment of Covid-19 with a global accessibility range.
Vaccinations and oral treatments: why do we need both?
Many sceptics believe that vaccine booster jabs – now being offered to all adults over 50 following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – and the development of drugs like molnupiravir, prove that Covid vaccines don’t work. The reality is that vaccine efficacy decreases over time which is why boosters and other forms of protection are necessary.