An antiviral drug that was granted an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2021 may be linked to mutations in the virus, according to a new study released on Monday. Molnupiravir, an antiviral developed by Merck & Co.
works by causing mutations in the virus with the aim of weakening and then killing it, thus reducing the amount of virus in the body.
But the study, which was conducted by a team of mostly U.K.-based academics, found that in some patients, molnupiravir did not succeed in killing the virus but instead allowed the mutated virus to spread. “Using a systematic approach, we find that a specific class of long phylogenetic branches, distinguished by a high proportion of G-to-A and C-to-T mutations, appear almost exclusively in sequences from 2022, after the introduction of molnupiravir treatment, and in countries and age-groups with widespread usage of the drug,” the authors wrote in the study, which was published Monday in the journal Nature. Molnupiravir, which is credited with helping vulnerable patients avoid developing severe COVID, was widely used in many countries. Read now: WHO adds Merck’s antiviral to its treatment guidelines for patients with nonsevere disease The researchers used a global database to track virus mutations and found changes that looked different from the more typical COVID mutations. The unusual pattern was found to be closely linked to patients who had taken molnupiravir, which is taken orally over five days, and to have increased in 2022, just as molnupiravir was being adopted. “Our findings show that molnupiravir creates genetically divergent viruses capable not only of replicating but transmitting, with unknown consequences for the global public,” said Ryan Hisner, a researcher at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. The study did not find that molnupiravir accelerated the creation of new variants of concern, or those that the World Health Org …