An international team of researchers has determined that a popular drug manufactured by Merck to treat COVID-19 is driving what is being described as “unintended” mutations in the virus and potentially fueling the virus’s spread
The Express reported Monday that these researchers studied a whopping 15 million COVID-19 sequences to determine how it has mutated over time. What they found could be described as alarming.
Their analysis shows that there were mutations that deviated from the normal pattern of change. Moreover, one-third of the mutations were associated with individuals who had taken the popular antiviral drug molnupiravir.
Molnupiravir is produced by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. It was one of the first antiviral placed on the market to combat COVID-19 and is used by patients in several countries including the United States.
The Express notes that the molnupiravir is supposed to induce mutations in COVID-19’s genome during replication. Some of these damage or kill the virus, reducing its viral load.
But the international team discovered that molnupiravir is also causing enduring mutations in many cases, enhancing the genetic diversity of COVID-19.
The team displayed small clusters of these mutations, which can be being transmitted between patients.
Paper co-author Dr Christopher Ruis, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, England, explained:
Molnupiravir is one of a number of drugs being used to fight COVID-19. It belongs to a class of drugs that can cause the virus to mutate so much that it is fatally weakened.
But what we’ve found is that in some patients, this process doesn’t kill all the viruses, and some mutated viruses can spread.
Dr Theo Sanderson of the Francis Crick Institute in London, England, who led the study, said that molnupiravir is creating complications and suggested that scientists take his team’s research into account when developing new drugs to treat COVID-19.
COVID-19 is still having a major effect on human health, and some people have difficulty clearing the virus, so it’s important we develop drugs which aim to cut short the length of infection.
But our evidence shows that a specific antiviral drug — molnupiravir — also results in new mutations, increasing the genetic diversity in the surviving viral population.
Our findings are useful for ongoing assessment of the risks and benefits of molnupiravir treatment. The possibility of persistent antiviral-induced mutations needs to be taken into account for the development of new drugs which work in a similar way.