A drug antiviral molnupiravir, developed by Merck —in Brazil, it’s MSD— to treat Covid-19accelerated the recovery of patients, but failed to reduce the risks of hospitalization and deathaccording to the results of a large clinical trial in the United Kingdom.
The peer-reviewed article published in The Lancet confirmed preliminary findings released in October that molnupiravir —marketed by the US pharmaceutical group as Lagevrio— did not prevent the most severe illness among the 25,700 participants.
But the Oxford University researchers who led the so-called Panoramic trial emphasized the positive secondary results at a press conference on Thursday (22).
“The study suggests that this treatment may have other benefits for treating Covidsuch as faster recovery time and reduced follow-up in health services,” said Chris Butler, associate lead researcher at Oxford. Molnupiravir reduced the duration of symptoms by about four days on average.
“This can help alleviate the burden on UK health services by treating selected patients at home during periods of high levels of illness and pressure on key services,” he said.
Jonathan Van-Tam, former Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the University of Nottingham, another member of the study team, commented: “While molnupiravir was originally thought to be good for reducing hospitalization in Covid patients, these patients were not vaccinated. last research repeated the test in the highly vaccinated population, demonstrating that vaccine protection is so strong that there is no obvious benefit of the drug in terms of reducing hospitalization and deaths. However, the duration of symptoms and the spread of the virus are markedly shorter.”
Molnupiravir works by causing an overload of lethal mutations in Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid. Some scientists have expressed fears that this “error catastrophe” could accelerate the evolution of harmful variants, but Judith Breuer of University College London, who led a portion of the Panoramic study into the virology of Covid, said that concern now seems unwarranted. “Any virus that persists after treatment is too mutated to be viable,” she said.
The researchers plan to assess the costs and benefits of molnupiravir treatment and the drug’s effect on long-term Covid symptoms. But, at the cost of several hundred pounds per patient, its prescription by general practitioners such as Covid treatment for the general population is not justified, said Paul Little of the University of Southampton, one of the principal investigators.
“We are excited about these Panoramic findings,” said Merck, which is known as MSD outside North America. “These results, particularly with regard to symptomatic improvement (…) further support the urgent need for global access to Lagevrio [como também é conhecido o molnupiravir] for Covid-19 treatment in suitable, high-risk patients”.
Releasing its third-quarter results in late October, MSD said it expected to sell between $5.2 billion and $5.4 billion of Lagevrio in 2022, though sales are now falling rapidly — from $3.24 billion in the first quarter to $1.18 billion in the second and $436 million in the third.