A research team at Georgia State University is helping lead the fight against COVID-19 by studying a new oral drug that could stop community spread.

Dr. Richard Plemper leads the research team of eight scientists who’ve been studying the drug called Molnupiravir. It was created two years ago as a way to treat the flu. When the pandemic began researchers at Emory repurposed it to fight the coronavirus. Some of this research is now being conducted under Plemper, whose lab is at Georgia State.

“This drug may actually be able to rapidly block transmission from an infected animal or patient to an uninfected contact or person,” Dr. Plemper told CBS46’s Hayley Mason. “It has completed phase one clinical trial in humans,” he added. Ridgeback Biotherapeutics conducted the phase one trials.

The drug is mainly being tested on ferrets---related to the mink family—which are known to spread the virus quickly in a similar manner as young adults. The infected ferrets were given the drug, and after 20 hours they virus was suppressed.

The infected ferrets that had taken the drug were not able to spread the virus to other uninfected ferrets living in the same cages with them. Plemper says after taking the oral drug for several days, the virus is not only noncontagious, but also stops replicating completely.

“We kept treating the source animal and the virus is suppressed to become undetectable, so it is complete suppression. What we expect would likely happen in a treated human situation,” Plemper said.

He says this isn't a replacement for a vaccine but another possible option on the horizon, as some may not be able to take the vaccine due to possible underlying conditions.

“It’s important that we have the option for to cover every case and every scenario to really leave the pandemic trial,” Plemper stated. 

He says if this oral drug, being developed and licensed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in collaboration with Merck, is approved by the FDA, it could be a “game-changer.”

“This drug has the potential to break transmission, community transmission chains until we have sufficient heard immunity either naturally acquired or vaccine induced to end the pandemic,” Plemper said.

The drug is currently in phase 2 and 3 clinical trials for efficacy. 

Copyright 2020 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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