Can COVID-19 be treated with a pill? UNC, Duke scientists studying results of possible treatment


DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — What if people diagnosed with COVID-19 could one day take a pill to treat it? That’s what scientists at UNC and Duke are studying, and early results are showing promise.  

Molnupiravir is little pill that could eventually mean a big change in the way COVID-19 is treated.

“It’s a broad acting antiviral agent,” explained Dr. Cameron Wolfe, who led the Molnupiravir study at Duke. 

He says you can think of it like Tamiflu for influenza.

“It would be great to be able to prove that a capsule or a tablet could be active against a number of respiratory viruses, most importantly COVID,” he said.

Right now, people in the hospital with COVID-19 can get the antiviral treatment, Remdesivir, which is given intravenously. Monoclonal antibodies are the only outpatient treatment and they’re only available to high-risk patients. They’re also given through an IV.

“It’s a lot of logistics to be able to do that;” said Wolfe. “I’ve got to bring you, as an infectious person, into a clinic run an infusion, observe you for a period of time; that’s logistically quite challenging. The ideal is that if you could use a pill for that person and have them get better in the comfort of their own home. There’s just many advantages.”

First, researchers have to prove the pill works, and it’s a team effort. 

“UNC, in fact, actually led a lot of those trials,” explained Wolfe.

Dr. William Fischer, a UNC doctor leading the study, was quoted in a news release from the drug makers.  

“The secondary objective findings in this study, of a quicker decrease in infectious virus among individuals treated with Molnupiravir, are promising and if supported by additional studies could have important public health implications, particularly as the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to spread and evolve globally,” Fischer said in the release.

Wolfe agrees early results show promise.  

“We have good laboratory evidence to suggest that it should work,” he said.  “I know we’re also trying to explore, let’s understand its side effects; let’s have a look at the dosing structure.”  

Doctors hope more ongoing studies will show the drug can shorten the illness and make it less severe and less contagious. 

“We don’t know that yet for this antiviral, but it’s promising for what it says so far,” said Wolfe.

He added that it will likely be many months before we know for sure whether Molnupiravir works. He noted that vaccines are still the best defense against the virus, but if this drug proves safe and effective, it could help people who do end up getting sick.  

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