How does Merck’s Molnupiravir differ from Ivermectin?
by Health Desk|Published onOctober 5, 2021–Updated on October 5, 2021|Explainer
What our experts say
Molnupiravir is an experimental antiviral drug, originally developed by the pharmaceutical company Merck for the treatment of influenza (flu). The medication, given in the form of an oral pill, interferes with how viruses copy their genetic material, ribonucleic acid (RNA). This prevents the virus from spreading in our bodies and can help treat patients at risk for severe cases of viral disease.
In contrast, there is currently no evidence that Ivermectin is effective against COVID-19, including a large study showing no benefit compared to a placebo and another flawed study being withdrawn from a pre-print platform. Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug that is used to treat infections caused by roundworms, threadworms, and other parasites. The U.S. FDA has warned against self-administering Ivermectin for COVID-19, particularly from veterinary sources intended for animal use rather than human use, as this decreases the supply of the drug for necessary uses and can pose safety risks if given incorrectly.
Molnupiravir is a drug named after Mjölnir, the hammer of the god of thunder in Norse mythology known as Thor. There is growing interest in Molnupiravir for treatment of COVID-19, given the promising interim results from recent clinical trials. Molnupiravir showed less effective results in an earlier study of patients with advanced cases of COVID-19 who were already hospitalized, so a more likely application is in non-hospitalized patients with earlier stages of COVID-19. Multiple governments have been negotiating to purchase this drug from Merck, ranging from the United States to Australia to Thailand. On October 5, 2021, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced that it will consider launching a rolling review of Molnupiravir for regulatory approval in the European Union (EU).
If authorized, Molnupiravir has the potential to become one of the first antiviral drugs for COVID-19 that can be given orally. Remdesivir, an antiviral drug currently approved by the U.S. FDA for treatment of COVID-19, needs to be given by intravenous injections (IV) over multiple days. Treatments that can be taken as a pill at home may help reduce strain on healthcare facilities and reduce the risk of infecting healthcare workers. Other drugs that can be given orally are currently being studied for COVID-19.
There are significant benefits to having improved treatment options for COVID-19, including potential lives saved. Beyond the benefits, it is important to recognize that many COVID-19 treatments – existing and in development – are currently more expensive and less available compared to preventative measures such as vaccination. For example, as of October 2021, Molnupiravir is estimated to cost $700 per patient and there is a limited capacity for supply. In contrast, vaccines vary in cost but even the more expensive options are several times cheaper than Molnupiravir and billions of vaccine doses have been produced. With vaccines as well as treatment drugs, there remain major inequities in availability around the world.