U of A research supports reports of Merck pill efficacy

An Edmonton-tested antiviral pill that is said to cut COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in half is now being reviewed by Health Canada.

The drug was studied at the University of Alberta (U of A) and, if approved, will become the first oral pill proven to treat COVID-19.

U of A researchers say, while vaccines are the best tool for preventing severe disease, there's now potentially an option to treat COVID-19 infections as well.

Molnupiravir was originally created to fight Influenza, but initial studies have shown success in fighting COVID-19 infections.

Researchers at the U of A told CTV News Edmonton they believe they understand how the drug works. Their research was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. 

"The drug causes the virus to make too many mistakes," said Dr. Matthias Gotte, a professor teaching at the U of A's medical microbiology and immunology department.

"The genome replicates in a very sloppy way so that the viruses that are newly generated, they are not infectious anymore and this is what we have shown with biochemical experiments."

According to Merck, molnupiravir should be taken eight times a day within five days of first experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Canada's chief medical adviser said a review of the drug is underway, but testing could take months, and the pill will only be approved if it works well and is safe.

"I was extremely happy. This is exactly what we need right now," said Dr. Gotte.

Merck says it plans to submit the drug for approval in the United States and other countries in the coming days.