Georgia State study finds COVID-19 antivirals need to evolve as virus changes

COVID-19 antivirals like Paxlovid and molnupiravir have helped millions of higher-risk Americans infected with COVID-19 stay out of the hospital.

The therapies are designed to prevent a person from developing severe complications of the virus.

But, in a new animal research study led by Georgia State University, researchers found how well the antiviral molnupiravir works at preventing severe disease can vary depending on factors like which SARS-Co-V2 variant it is tested against -- and whether one is male or female.

Richard Plemper of GSU's new Center for Translational Antiviral Research, says the findings point to the need for more research into antivirals.

"I think we need to move away from the idea that one drug fits all, and 'This is the great drug, let's give it, and not worry about anything else that is on the market, because that is our standard of care,'" Plemper explains.  "That, maybe, as the virus evolves, that may be too simple."

The researchers, testing molnupiravir's effectiveness in preventing severe disease in dwarf hamsters, found the antiviral worked best against the Omicron variant.

While all the hamsters treated with the antiviral survived, the male hamsters infected with the Omicron variant had a lower viral load than the females.

"I think what this study, for us, why it is important, is that it highlights that we need to, as the virus evolves, we need to reassess continuously the efficacy of the drugs, and also efficacy for different patient populations," Plemper says.  "To simply assure that a given patient, when the patient, when the patient sees the doctor, is prescribed the most, based on the science that we have, the most, is prescribed the treatment that promises the greatest therapeutic benefit.  And that is key."