This strategy was a long shot, but success would have led to an antiviral pill faster than trying to manufacture an entirely new drug. What followed was a brutal wave of failures. Antivirals that worked in petri dishes failed when tested on animals, and those that worked on animals failed in clinical trials.
Even drugs that have been the subject of clinical trials have often turned out to be disappointing. An influenza drug called favipiravir showed promising results in early trials, leading Canadian company Appili Therapeutics to begin an advanced-stage trial on more than 1,200 volunteers. But on November 12, the company announcement that the pill did not accelerate the healing of the disease.
Not everything in the research is very successful, said Dr Fauci.
Merck’s new drug, molnupiravir, was investigated in 2019 by a nonprofit company linked to Emory University as a treatment for Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, a little-known pathogen that is feared to be a potential biological weapon. When molnupiravir encounters the genes of a virus, it wreaks havoc, resulting in a slew of new mutations. New viruses are often unable to replicate.
In October, Merck announced the first results of its trial of molnupiravir: the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by about 50%. Eager to curb the balance sheet of Covid-19, the US government has bought about 3.1 million cycles of molnupiravir for about $ 2.2 billion.
But in the final analysis of the trial, the effectiveness of the drugs fell to 30%. At a Nov. 30 meeting of an FDA advisory committee, experts discussed the drug’s potential to cause mutations not only in viruses, but in peoples’ DNA. The committee voted to recommend authorization for molnupiravir, but only by a slim majority. And even committee members who voted in favor of the drug expressed strong reservations, given the potential side effects.
Now the drug Pfizers is the next to enter the limelight. Its origins date back almost two decades, when researchers at Pfizer were looking for a drug that could fight the coronavirus that caused SARS. They decided to build a molecule capable of blocking an essential viral protein, known as a protease. Proteases act like molecular scissors, cutting long molecules into pieces that help build new viruses.
The drug, originally called PF-00835231, lodged in the protease like a piece of gum stuck between scissor blades. PF-00835231 was shown to be effective against SARS when administered intravenously to rats.
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