New antiviral drug molnupiravir can eliminate COVID-19 in just 3 days

BASEL, Switzerland — A new anti-viral drug can defeat COVID-19 infections in less than a week — potentially changing the quarantine rules after exposure forever.

The drug, molnupiravir, effectively neutralized infections of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID) among a sample group by day three after starting therapy. Meanwhile, other COVID-19 patients taking a placebo took up to five days to make the same medical progress. For some patients in the control group, their recovery took even longer.

Molnupiravir is an oral antiviral prodrug that boasts broad activity against numerous coronaviruses. Prodrugs “switch on” and become active once they enter the body. Importantly, the drug is active against SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, including Delta and Omicron.

To start, the randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind “MOVe-OUT” trial revealed that molnupiravir is better than a placebo among non-hospitalized adults with a mild-to-moderate case of COVID-19 who are at risk for severe complications.

However, researchers note these benefits only take hold if the patients start using molnupiravir within five days of symptom onset. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already granted emergency use authorization for the drug. It is also authorized for use in numerous other countries including Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Beating COVID in 72 hours

Study authors used PCR tests to measure SARS-CoV-2 viral loads among the patients on days one (baseline), three, five (end-of-treatment visit), 10, 15, and 29. The final analysis only examined participants with an infectious virus isolated at baseline and those with an available post-baseline SARS-CoV-2 RNA sample. In all, scientists included 96 people in the placebo group and 92 patients taking molnupiravir.

By day three of treatment, the team did not find traces of infectious SARS-CoV-2 in any of the 92 participants receiving molnupiravir. In comparison, 21.8 percent (20/96) of the placebo participants were still viral.

By day five, no one in the molnupiravir group had any traces of coronavirus infection, compared to 2.2 percent of the placebo group. By day 10, everyone in both groups was free of the virus.

“This analysis of the final virologic outcome data from MOVe-OUT confirms previous observations demonstrating that a 5-day treatment course of twice-daily 800 mg molnupiravir results in a more rapid decline in viral RNA and faster elimination of infectious virus than placebo… This study provides additional evidence that molnupiravir helps those infected clear SARS-CoV-2 faster than placebo, and supports MOVe-OUT’s primary finding that molnupiravir can lower the risk of progression to serious illness in this high-risk cohort,” Dr. Julie Strizki says in a media release.

The research is set to be presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases.

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