Molnupiravir, an experimental antiviral drug developed by Emory University, Merck (NYSE:MRK) and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, has promise in the battle against COVID-19 based on an animal trial published in Nature from Georgia State University researchers.
Also known as MK-4482 or EIDD-2801, the oral drug Molnupiravir has an advantage over SARS-CoV-2 therapies such as remdesivir and reconvalescent serum that require infusion. Molnupiravir blocked SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission in ferrets, which generally transmit the virus similar to young human adults.
In the study, the drug was administered to the animals twice daily, curbing viral load in the ferrets and entirely blocking spread to untreated contact animals. If the drug performs similarly in humans, it could be a useful tool in curbing community transmission of COVID-19.
Emory University researchers initially developed MK-4482 as an anti-influenza agent. A prodrug of the nucleoside analog N4-hydroxycytidine (NHC), MK-4482, proved to be effective at curbing flu infections in mice, guinea pigs, ferrets and human-airway organoids. NHC also proved to have a broad-spectrum effect against RNA viruses.
One reason the researchers chose minks for their investigation is that mouse models of SARS-CoV-2 are limited. The novel coronavirus cannot transmit to mice without adapting the virus or using transgenic rodents. Human SARS-CoV-2, however, has infected farmed minks and resulted in substantial transmission between animals and, occasionally, back to humans.
At least nine countries have had COVID-19 outbreaks in mink farms, according to the Atlantic. Minks are closely related to ferrets.