COVID-19 drug causes new viral mutations
Study Finds Merck's COVID-19 Drug Causes New Viral Mutations; experts fear its use in China could create an entirely new variant.
The study warns that Merck's antiviral Lagevrio, also called molnupiravir, which has just been authorized in China, causes new mutations of the coronavirus.
Researchers from the United States and researchers identified the new mutations in viral samples taken from dozens of patients who received the treatment.
The changes made to the virus did not make it deadlier, or more infectious, but experts believe that this compromises the risks of drugs that work by altering the genetic code of the coronavirus.
While molnupiravir has rarely been used in the US or UK, its use has just been authorized in China, where authorities are relying on relatively poor vaccines and treatments to deal with the devastating wave that is hitting the country.
An expert warns that this use can lead to the emergence of new variants. He even called the continued use of Lagevrio in some parts of the world “worrying.”
For months, authorities have been warning of extremely high infection rates in China. Experts fear 250 million infections hit the country in December alone.
Fears that molnupiravir could cause mutations emerged around the time the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use in late 2021.
The drug works by creating mutations in the COVID genome, which prevent it from replicating in the body.
While initially considered a breakthrough, Lageviro has been overtaken by Prfizer's Paxlovid as the COVID antiviral of choice worldwide, sidelining Merck's drug for a year. p>
The latest study has been published online as a preprint and has not been peer reviewed.
The team, which included experts from the Francis Crick Institute at Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge, examined 13 million RNA sequences of the virus that causes COVID.
They have analyzed the nucleic composition of the RNA strands to look for indications that the virus had mutated because of the drug.
In hundreds of samples, they found evidence that the drug had indeed well caused a replication.
Almost all of the detections were made in samples collected in 2022, the year the drug Lagevrio was made available worldwide, which would point to it being involved.
“ It is possible that some patients treated with molnupiravir may not completely clear SARS-CoV2 infections, which could lead to further transmission of molnupiravir-mutated viruses,” the researchers wrote.
Merck, headquartered in Rahway, New Jersey, disputed the report, saying there is no evidence that molnupiravir has contributed to COVID variants, or that it may do so in the future. .
“Clinical trial data has demonstrated that the use of molnupiravir leads to a rapid decline in viral infectivity,” a Merck spokesperson told the Daily Mail.
< p>“The authors speculate that these mutations are associated with molnupiravir treatment without evidence that the viral sequences were isolated from treated patients, based on circumstantial associations between the origin of the viral sequences and the period of collection of the sequences in the countries where molnupiravir is available to draw their conclusions,” the spokesperson added.
A ‘dangerous’ drug
Some experts had reported the possibility that the drug will cause worrying mutations as early as the end of 2021.
Dr Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, was among those experts.
He told the Daily Mail on Thursday: 'The use of molnupiravir in any countries will contribute to the emergence of new variants of SARS-CoV-2.
“Given the poor – essentially zero – efficacy of molnupiravir against SARS-CoV-2, and given the strong mutagenic activity of molnupiravir and its contribution to the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, it is concerning that molnupiravir is being used anywhere, anytime, for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2,” he added.
Dr William Haseltine, known as one of the world's leading experts in human genome analysis, warned in late 2021 that the way the drug works opens the door to danger.
“You are releasing a drug that is a potent mutagen at a time when we are deeply concerned about new variants,” he told Forbes, adding, “I can't imagine doing anything more dangerous. .”
“If I was trying to create a new virus that was more dangerous to humans, I would give a subclinical dose [of molnupiravir] to infected people,” he continued.
< p>The drug was cleared for use by the FDA in December 2021. The clearance was controversial by some experts due to concerns about mutations in the virus.
It has, however, shown the ability to reduce hospitalizations and deaths from the virus by 50% in clinical trials.
Soon after, Pfizer's Paxlovid was approved. With a 90% superior efficacy against hospitalizations and deaths – and without the many concerns about mutations in the virus – it has quickly become the drug of choice to fight COVID in America.
Si molnupiravir was little used in most of the Western world, its generic versions were used in less developed countries.