Vanderbilt Medical Center's role in COVID antiviral pill research

Merck antiviral
Posted at 6:45 AM, Nov 27, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Could the fight against COVID be strengthened by a pill you can take at home?

The FDA said Friday an experimental antiviral pill from drug company Merck is effective. Merck has asked the FDA to approve the pill, called Molnupiravir, which cuts the risk of hospitalization due to COVID.

Research for the drug was done partially at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in the lab of Mark Denison.

Merck originally designed the drug to treat the flu, but found it produces errors in COVID-19's genetic code, which stops the virus from replicating.

"An analogy would be it's like a car driving down the road and you have nails in the road that hit the tires, that slowly deflate the tires and eventually the car can't run anymore," Denison said.

And Denison says the antiviral pill is likely effective not only against current strains of the coronavirus, but also future variants, too.

Despite this, Denison says the pill should not take the place of a COVID vaccine.

"We should all be vaccinated, we would prevent many more hospitalizations and death by vaccine than with a drug," Denison said. "A drug tries to treat an infection after it's already started, prevention is always best."

If the FDA green-lights the pill, Molnupiravir could be available as early as next month.