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Oxford and Southhampton Universities begin search for volunteers for COVID-19 pill trials

Cecilia Catmur reports on research into a new COVID treatment.

Oxford and Southampton universities are looking for volunteers to trial Molnupiravir, a potential treatment for COVID-19. The trial is being led by Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Health Care Science, partnered with the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research).

The antiviral drug Molnupiravir (brand name Lagevrio) prevents the virus from spreading and growing. The drug interferes with the Coronavirus’ genetic code, affecting its ability to replicate. As a result of it not being able to multiply, the virus levels in the body remain low. Therefore, the severity of cases and symptoms are reduced. The pill’s ability to treat infections, and reduce symptoms in high-risk cases, could be critical to nationwide progress in combating the virus.

The drug is the first of its kind to be approved for further trials for COVID-19 treatment. It is a small, oral antiviral drug which can be taken at home. The course requires four tablets to be taken twice a day over five days.

Analysis of the interim ‘Phase 3 MOVe-OUT’ trials published in ‘The New England Journal of Medicine’ reveal that ‘Molnupiravir’ proved effective in reducing COVID-19 symptoms if taken within 5 days of their onset. Further investigation by Merck and Ridgeback reveals the risk of hospitalisation was reduced by around 50% in those who took Molnupiravir compared to the placebo.

These trials have so far revealed no major safety concerns. The only people whom it is not recommended for are those in pregnancy or breastfeeding. Hence, if the results of further trials are similarly favourable, Merck hopes to be able to administer 10 million people with the drug course by January 2022.

The results of the first volunteers in these more recent trials are promising. In some cases, symptoms have reduced within 48 hours of the pill being taken. Volunteers have commended its ease and efficiency. Side effects are minor; headaches, dizziness, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting only affect 1 in 100 people who take the drug.

Five days ago it was reported by the BBC that 8000 recently diagnosed volunteers are already taking part in the current trials, yet more are needed. It is estimated that 10,600 will need to be recruited in total. Volunteers must prove they currently have COVID-19 through a PCR or lateral flow, alongside symptoms which have lasted a minimum of five days. The search is for those over 50, or for 18-49 year olds with underlying health conditions. According to trial results, the most common risk factors for COVID-19 which this drug will be authorised for are obesity, older age over 60, and diabetes mellitus.

Whilst this drug is key in combating COVID-19, it does not replace vaccinations. The push for vaccinations and boosters nationally continues. 

Image credit: Christina Victoria Craft


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