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COVID-19 drug may have mutated virus, study says

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COVID-19 drug may have mutated virus, study says

A drug used to deal with COVID-19 could have led to mutations within the virus, a research mentioned Monday.

Pharmaceutical big Merck’s antiviral capsule molnupiravir was one of many earliest remedies rolled out in the course of the pandemic to forestall COVID-19 from turning into extra extreme in weak individuals.

The drug, which is taken orally over a five-day course, works primarily by creating mutations within the virus with the objective of weakening and killing it.

However, a brand new U.Okay.-led research has proven that molnupiravir “can give rise to significantly mutated viruses which remain viable,” lead writer Theo Sanderson instructed Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Sanderson, a geneticist at London’s Francis Crick Institute, emphasised that there is no such thing as a proof that “molnupiravir has to date created more transmissible or more virulent viruses.”

None of the variants which have swept the world had been as a result of drug, he added.

But “it is very difficult to predict whether molnupiravir treatment could potentially lead to a new widely circulating variant which people don’t have prior immunity to,” he added.

For the research, which was printed within the journal Nature, the researchers sifted by way of databases of greater than 15 million genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the Covid illness.

The researchers used this knowledge to trace adjustments in how the virus mutated in the course of the pandemic, discovering indicators of a selected “mutational signature” in sufferers they consider is linked to molnupiravir.

In 2022, because the drug was prescribed in large numbers, there was a major improve in sufferers who had this mutational signature, the research discovered.

This signature was extra generally present in international locations the place the drug was broadly prescribed, such because the United States, U.Okay., Australia and Japan.

But in international locations the place it was not authorized, together with Canada and France, it was rarer.

Merck refuted the research, saying the researchers had relied on “circumstantial associations” between the place and when the sequences had been taken.

“The authors assume these mutations were associated with viral spread from molnupiravir-treated patients without documented evidence of that transmission,” Merck mentioned in an announcement despatched to AFP.

Sanderson rebuffed this declare, saying the researchers had used “several independent lines of evidence to identify with confidence that molnupiravir drives this mutational signature.”

That included a separate evaluation of therapy knowledge in England, which discovered that greater than 30% of mutation occasions involving the signature had been in individuals who had taken molnupiravir.

However, simply 0.04% of individuals in England had been prescribed the drug in 2022, the research mentioned.

Other anti-Covid medication don’t work in the identical method, so wouldn’t trigger these sorts of mutations, Sanderson mentioned.

Experts not concerned within the research appeared to aspect with the British researchers.

Stephen Griffin, a virologist on the U.Okay.’s University of Leeds, mentioned it was an “incredibly important, well-conducted piece of research.”

Jonathan Ball, a virologist on the University of Nottingham, mentioned the analysis confirmed a “strong link” between molnupiravir and the occasional, restricted unfold of extremely mutated genomes.

“What isn’t clear is if any of the transmitted viruses contained mutations which would change how they would behave – for example, if they were more or less transmissible, more pathogenic or less susceptible to our immunity,” he added.

The consultants emphasised that molnupiravir shouldn’t be harmful to people who find themselves at the moment taking the drug.

They additionally didn’t name for the drug to be deserted altogether.

Molnupiravir is already being utilized by itself “less and less” as its effectiveness had waned in opposition to vaccinated people who find themselves not in danger, Griffin mentioned.

While the present analysis would possibly recommend that molnupiravir ought to not be prescribed by itself, “it shouldn’t be discarded and could still be valuable if we were to use it in drug combinations,” he added.

Sales of molnupiravir, bought underneath the model title Lagevrio, topped $20 billion final yr. However, gross sales fell 82% within the second quarter of 2023 in comparison with the identical interval final yr, in response to Merck.

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