This Orally-Taken Coronavirus Drug Saw Success in Animal Tests

The new drug also slowed the COVID-19 coronavirus in test-tube experiments with human cells.
Brad Bergan
Image formatted to fit. VanDenEsker / iStock

An orally-administered medicine called EIDD-2801 successfully blocked coronavirus infection that leads to COVID-19 from self-replicating in laboratory mice, according to a Monday report from Scientific American. The drug also slowed the deadly pathogen in test-tube experiments with human cells.


New coronavirus drug interrupts viral reproduction

The drug, EIDD-2801, interferes with a crucial mechanism by which the SARS-CoV-2 virus reproduces in vast numbers, causing infection, explained the researchers in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Trials on humans have yet to begin, but if the effect is mirrored in real people, the drug could become the first pill available to help everyone with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused 1.3 million cases and roughly 76,400 deaths globally. An orally-taken medication would boost the fight to curb the novel coronavirus because this method is much more scaleable than intravenous injection.

The study was carried out by a team from Emory University, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One company that licensed the drug — called Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, was recently given permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to start 10 patient trials of the antiviral pill in the following months.

Track record of successful drugs against coronaviruses

The same collaborative project of various universities had previously found that Gilead Sciences' experimental medicine remdesivir showed success in shutting down the replication of the coronaviruses that lead to earlier SARS and MERS epidemics. Remdesivir received attention earlier this year because it began clinical trials against SARS-CoV-2 in March, with the first results due as soon as late April. Findings released yesterday suggest that EIDD-2801 is potentially even more successful in interrupting coronavirus replication than the Gilead drug.

The results of the researchers' investigation of EIDD-2801 in animal studies were posted on the preprint server bioRxiv, while still under the submission process for peer review. But in light of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, "it was important to share," said George Painter, professor of chemistry and executive director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development, which first manufactured the drug. While it is a sign of hope, the best attitude about this is cautious optimism in the time of COVID-19.

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