Scientists at the Georgia State University Institute for Biomedical Sciences in the US have discovered a new antiviral drug, MK-4482/EIDD-2801 (Molnupiravir), for treating SARS-CoV-2 infection by completely suppressing virus transmission within 24 hours.

Potent against influenza viruses, the drug was discovered by a group led by Georgia State University professor Dr Richard Plemper.

As the drug can be taken orally, the treatment can be initiated early for a potentially three-fold benefit.

It can inhibit patients’ progression to severe disease, decrease the infectious phase, and quickly control local outbreaks.

Plemper said: “This is the first demonstration of an orally available drug to rapidly block SARS-CoV-2 transmission. MK-4482/EIDD-2801 could be game-changing.

“We noted early on that MK-4482/EIDD-2801 has broad-spectrum activity against respiratory RNA viruses and that treating infected animals by mouth with the drug lowers the amount of shed viral particles by several orders of magnitude, dramatically reducing transmission.”

According to the study published in Nature Microbiology, the team repurposed the drug against SARS-CoV-2 and used a ferret model to analyse its effect on stopping virus spread.

For the study, the researchers infected ferrets with SARS-CoV-2 and began administering the drug when the animals started to shed virus from the nose.

Study co-author Josef Wolf said: “When we co-housed those infected and then treated source animals with untreated contact ferrets in the same cage, none of the contacts became infected.”

Moreover, all contacts of source ferrets that were given placebo became infected.

If the ferret-based data translates to humans, then Covid-19 patients receiving the new antiviral drug could potentially be non-infectious within 24 hours after the initiation of the therapy, Georgia State University noted.

At present, MK-4482/EIDD-2801 is in advanced Phase II/III trials against Covid-19.