Oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19 trialled at King's

Dr Kosh Agarwal led a team of researchers who trialled the first oral antiviral treatment

Kosh Agarwal

A global clinical trial, which involved a team of King’s researchers led by Dr Kosh Agarwal, has uncovered a potential new treatment for people diagnosed with COVID-19.

The antiviral drug molnupiravir, which can be taken orally, halved the number of people displaying mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms that went on to require hospitalisation or died as a result of the virus.

The main symptoms of COVID-19 include a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change in sense of smell or taste, with many people able to recover at home with over-the-counter remedies. However, people who are deemed ‘at risk’, such as older people and those with underlying health conditions, can develop severe symptoms and require hospitalisation.

In a trial led by the US pharmaceutical company Merck earlier this year, researchers around the world - including Dr Agarwal’s team at King’s - recruited participants who displayed mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms and were deemed ‘at risk’ of developing severe symptoms due to various health factors.

While there are a number of drugs licensed for use in people hospitalised with severe COVID-19, until now there have been no drugs that can be taken at home to prevent people from developing severe symptoms.

King’s participants who enrolled following a diagnosis of COVID-19 at the Trust were given either molnupiravir or a placebo to take at home. The patients were advised to administer the drug every 12 hours, for 10 days, and then report their symptoms.

The results showed that treatment with molnupiravir halved the number of people being hospitalised or dying from severe COVID-19 and that side effects were minimal. Importantly, the same effect was seen regardless of the type of risk factor a person had and was also equally effective in those with different variants of the virus, including the Delta variant which is currently the most dominant strain of COVID-19 in the UK.

Dr Kosh Agarwal, Consultant Hepatologist at King’s College Hospital, says: “This is a landmark study and it was important that we gave our local patients and community the opportunity to take part in this global trial. Once again, we’ve demonstrated that King’s is at the forefront of delivering innovative research that makes a difference to people’s lives.”

Pharmaceutical company Merck is now seeking emergency approval in the US and submitting applications to regulatory agencies around the world, including the UK. If approved, molnupiravir will be the first oral antiviral drug for COVID-19 and raises the hope of preventing future deaths.