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ECU researchers start recruiting patients for study of COVID-19 pill


Researchers at East Carolina University in Greenville are enrolling people in a clinical trial for an experimental pill that was shown in another study to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death in people who had COVID-19. PRE’s Meredith Radford reports that the purpose of this study is to find out if the pill can prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in those who have not yet been infected.

Molnupiravir is an antiviral pill being developed by Merck & Co. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. It’s similar to remdesivir, which is a drug used to treat COVID-19 that is administered intravenously. 


A study has started at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine to determine whether the experimental drug can prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to people who are not vaccinated and not infected with the virus, but who are exposed to it because they live with someone who is infected.


Chief of infectious diseases and professor at the Brody School of Medicine, Dr. Paul Cook, says the pill has a lot of potential benefits, including that patients can take the pill at home instead of coming to the office for an infusion.


“We’ve done a previous study with this in hospitalized patients, it does not appear to be effective in patients who are sick enough to come to the hospital which is really not a surprise. But is has been shown to be beneficial in people that are minimally sick with COVID.”


Cook says ECU is one of multiple centers involved in this study, with an overall goal of recruiting around 1,300 patients over a 5-month period. 

“The side-effects of this drug appear to be extremely minimal. In fact, compared to placebo, there were more side effects in persons who took the placebo than took this drug. We don’t see that a lot, but that was actually the case in the initial trials.”


Cook mentioned that a previous molnupiravir study, which found it was effective in reducing hospitalization and death risk in infected people by half, was actually cut short because the interim results showed a clear benefit of the drug. He says it’s possible this trial could end before that many people are enrolled if something similar occurred.   


Cook also emphasized that this medication trial should not deter people from getting COVID-19 vaccines.


“The vaccine is the way to go. And so, what we’re doing is we’re doing this trial for folks who number one have not been vaccinated but also for folks who have chronic medical conditions where their ability to mount an adequate immune response is really not adequate. Those people potentially could benefit from this drug as well. Now, having said that, they’re not candidates for this trial, OK, because they’ve been vaccinated.”


The study lasts around 28 days and requires participants to take pills twice a day for five days, along with follow-up testing. Cook mentioned that if it has been less than a week since someone received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, they may be eligible to participate. Participants also must be at least 18-years-old and cannot be pregnant.


Registered nurse and infectious disease clinical research coordinator, Alison Geigel says they're just starting to get the word out about this study.


“We just encourage folks that are interested to just reach out to us. We are happy to answer questions and educate and give more information.” 


She mentioned that even if someone is unsure if they qualify, they can call to find out. Geigel also says there will be a compensation for participating but didn't disclose its amount.



For Public Radio East, I’m Meredith Radford. 


You can contact Jamie Wigent, RN: 252-744-1913, or Allison Geigel: RN 252-744-3962, for more information on participating in the study. 


Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Merck & Co. developed molnupiravir.  In fact, Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics partnered in the development of the oral antiviral medication for COVID-19.  

Molnupiravir is an antiviral pill being developed by Merck & Co. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. 

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