NIH scientists say they may have found a promising new oral antiviral drug for Covid

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Scientists may have found a promising new treatment for Covid-19 after an experimental oral antiviral drug demonstrated the ability to prevent the coronavirus from replicating, the National Institutes of Health said Thursday, citing a new study.

The drug, called TEMPOL, can reduce Covid-19 infections by impairing an enzyme the virus needs to make copies of itself once inside human cells, which could potentially limit the severity of the disease, researchers at the NIH said. The drug was tested in an experiment of cell cultures with live viruses.

“We urgently need additional effective, accessible treatments for COVID-19,” said Dr. Diana W. Bianchi, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is a part of the NIH. “An oral drug that prevents SARS-CoV-2 from replicating would be an important tool for reducing the severity of the disease.”

The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

While vaccines have been incredibly useful in driving down Covid-19 cases in the United States and other parts of the world, scientists say treatments are still badly needed for those who get infected with the virus.

The U.S. is still reporting an average of roughly 16,300 infections per day as of Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir is the only drug that has received full U.S. approval from the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of Covid, and that needs to be administered in the hospital through an IV.

Pfizer, which developed the first authorized Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S. with German drugmaker BioNTech, is also developing an oral drug for Covid that can be taken at home at the first sign of illness. Researchers hope the medication will keep the disease from progressing and prevent hospital trips. It began an early stage trial in March.

The NIH researchers said they plan to conduct additional preliminary studies and will seek opportunities to evaluate the drug in a clinical study of Covid.

The study’s findings were “hopeful,” said Dr. Tracey Rouault, another NIH official who led the study.

“However, clinical studies are needed to determine if the drug is effective in patients, particularly early in the disease course when the virus begins to replicate.”

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