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Monday, April 22, 2024

UC Davis Medical Center faculty respond to the rise of treatments like Merck’s anti-COVID pill

Merck’s pill, molnupiravir, shows reductions of hospitalizations and deaths by 50%

By BRANDON NGUYEN –– science@theaggie.org

    Over a year and a half into the pandemic, with sweeping changes to the standard of living along with distressing upward trends of illness, hospitalizations and deaths, recent developments of treatments such as Merck’s anti-COVID pill offer hope toward a return to the status quo. 

    According to an article in The Sacramento Bee, “Pharmaceutical company Merck took the internet by storm when it announced Friday morning that findings from a recent study showed its experimental oral pill molnupiravir reduced COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths by 50%.” 

    Dr. Christian Sandrock, a trained infectious disease pulmonary critical care doctor at the UC Davis Medical Center, discussed the current state of the pandemic as being dominated by “downward trends in new cases by about 20% from where it was two weeks ago.” However, he highlighted that “hot spots” of cases remain in certain states and areas within the U.S. where vaccination rates are not as high as in California. 

    With the advent of continuing trials for new treatments against COVID-19, a multi-faceted approach is necessary to reduce the impact of the pandemic, according to Dr. Rachael Callcut, the division chief of trauma and acute care surgery at the UC Davis Medical Center. Part of this approach, aside from initial prevention of the disease and treating the virus itself, includes risk mitigation and decreasing the chances of hospitalization by preventing the development of severe illness arising from the coronavirus.

    “This particular oral agent is targeted at people who are at risk of developing severe illness from the virus, and it is something to be given early in the course of illness to try to prevent the development of complications,” Callcut said. “I would say that this is sort of analogous to the approaches that you see with things like pills that we give to patients who have influenza to try to prevent them from developing complications of influenza.” 

    Merck’s study is important to altering the current landscape of the pandemic and its ferocious impact on the global population in the past year. In the same vein, Sandrock summarized the promising results of the pill and its significance proceeding toward a hopeful end to the pandemic. 

    “The data looks promising: the trial had just about a little over 350 people in each arm so, not whopping numbers but still reasonably high, and the key is the major endpoints of hospitalization and death were certainly down,” Sandrock said. “So I think that the big thing is it can be taken orally, and this changes the landscape to something that is a single pill.” 

    Other current treatments include the administration of monoclonal antibodies to the patient to combat the virus, and maintaining a steady supply of this product is relatively more costly in terms of price and time, according to Sandrock. For individuals who live further away and have little to no access to healthcare, reducing hospitalizations is key to facilitating a return to the status quo. With Merck’s anti-COVID pill, it has the potential to drastically reduce the burdens of both the patient and the medical professional.

    “Fighting the COVID-19 pandemic has fostered collaboration among drug developers, academic medical and research centers as well as supportive funding agencies,” Dr. Allison Brashear, the dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine, said. “UC Davis School of Medicine, renowned for its research expertise, is a trusted partner on many COVID-19 clinical trials at the forefront of efforts to cure this terrible disease.”

    Callcut’s lab is also involved in one of the many ongoing clinical trials, working with mesenchymal stromal cells, cells that are stem-cell like that aid in regeneration of damaged lung cells and reducing inflammation associated with acute respiratory disorders caused by viruses like COVID-19. 

Hope is on the horizon for individuals actively fighting the pandemic with the race toward developing treatments attacking all realms of the virus. Callcut echoed this sentiment, encouraging the continual efforts in enforcing public health safety and support.

“There’s got to be a multi-faceted approach that resides on the principles of our public health initiatives, and the first is prevention of illness,” Callcut said. “One of the most effective strategies for that is vaccinations, specifically investing in increasing vaccination education and administering vaccines. These types of measures will be our most important defenses in leading to the end of the pandemic.”
Written by: Brandon Nguyen —science@theaggie.org


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