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Promising Drug On The Horizon For COVID-19

Scientists are reporting promising results for a new drug to treat COVID-19.

The drug is known as EIDD-2801. It works by interfering with the coronavirus' ability to make copies of itself once it infects a cell. In that regard it's similar to remdesivir, a drug currently being tested in COVID-19 patients.

EIDD-2801 has one major advantage over remdesivir: It can be taken as a pill, whereas remdesivir must be given intravenously.

Researchers from Emory University in Atlanta; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., first tested EIDD-2801 in cells cultured in the laboratory. When those tests were encouraging, they gave the drug to mice that had been infected with coronaviruses that cause either SARS or MERS, and showed that it reduced the amount of virus in their bodies. In addition, the mice gained weight, another good sign.

The researchers say they were unable to test EIDD-2801 in mice infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 because right now most mice are not susceptible to infection with that virus.

A paper describing the new results appeared online today in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center virologist Mark Denison, one of paper's authors, says there's already been a lot of research on other coronaviruses, so he's not worried that testing the drugs in animals will turn up any problems.

Timothy Sheahan of the University of North Carolina, another one of the paper's authors, said in a press release that "in normal times, testing in non-human primates would be the obvious next step on the road to human testing. Since these are not normal times, this could be skipped and evaluated under compassionate use and established clinical trials in people. The goal is to directly attack the virus, lessen symptoms, decrease pathogenesis and save lives."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. Palca is also the founder of NPR Scicommers – A science communication collective.