The SARS-CoV-2 or Coronavirus has crippled normal life worldwide since 2019 with its high infection rate. The quest for a possible cure for COVID-19 has been ongoing by the pharmaceutical giants worldwide since its outbreak.
Vaccinations against the disease started to roll out globally since August 2021 bringing in much needed relief for people worldwide vexed with periodic lockdowns. While vaccines provide us with preventive immunity, an antiviral drug would enable us to cure people who have contracted the virus.
Ivermectin and its use in the pandemic
Ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug, was widely used by the general population, especially in the United States, as a drug to treat coronavirus during its early days. It was recommended in India as a ‘therapy based on low certainty’ in May 2021 by ICMR’s COVID-19 National Task Force, which was revised on 23 September 2021 to disclude the drug altogether.
The drug fell out of favour of government regulatory bodies worldwide post studies not showing enough safety and efficacy data for the drug’s use for treating coronavirus
Molnupiravir: An experimental oral coronavirus drug
Recently, the America based Pharmaceutical company Merck applied for emergency use authorization in the USA for its drug Molnupiravirin- as a possible oral treatment for coronavirus.
“Molnupiravir Reduced the Risk of Hospitalization or Death by Approximately 50 Percent Compared to Placebo for Patients with Mild or Moderate COVID-19 in Positive Interim Analysis of Phase 3 Study” says a press release by the company.
Molnupiravir and India
Merck has signed agreements with five companies in India, namely Cipla Limited, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Limited, Emcure Pharmaceuticals Limited, Hetero Labs Limited and Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Limited to manufacture the drug here.
As per Merck’s website, the company is set to provide licenses to these manufacturers to supply the drug not only in India but to more than 100 Low-to-middle income countries.
Social Media Rumours
Social media users in the USA have accused Molnupiravir of being a repackaged version of Ivermectin. Internet users have claimed that Molnupiravir is a repackaged version of Ivermectin by Merck so that it can sell the latter drug again as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
Ivermectin was discovered in the late 1970s from the joint efforts of the Kitasato Institute, Tokyo, Japan and Merck. The drug was initially used to treat various parasites in animals, post further studies its use was expanded in human beings to treat river blindness, a leading cause of blindness. It’s now used for a number of broad-spectrum uses for human beings.
“Molnupiravir was invented at Drug Innovations at Emory (DRIVE), LLC, a not-for-profit biotechnology company wholly owned by Emory University, and is being developed by Merck & Co., Inc. in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.” as per the company’s website.
It is being explored as an orally administered drug that could work against the causative agent of COVID-19, thus as a possible drug against the disease.
Newschecker spoke to experts in the field of medicine to understand the basis of these rumours linking the two drugs.Speaking exclusively to Newschecker, Dr. Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS (New Delhi) said, “Ivermectin and Molnupiravir are totally different molecules and are not the same.”
Elaborating further, Dr Ram Vishwakarma, Advisor to CSIR and former Director at the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, Jammu said, “Ivermectin and Molunupirvair molecules are totally different molecules- one is sourced from nature and the other is a synthetic derivative.
Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic natural product drug produced by bacterial fermentation while Molnupiravir is a synthetic nucleoside analogue and is produced by chemical technology.” said Dr.Vishwakarma.
Further, Dr. Jitendra Kumar Saini, Chest Specialist at the National Institute of Tuberculosis and Pulmonary Diseases also spoke to Newschecker about these drugs. Referring to a mini review on the two drugs in Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Dr Saini explained how Ivermectin and Molnupiravir are not the same and differ in their mechanism of action (pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics).
How do these drugs work?
Dr.Vishwakarma highlighted that Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug and inhibits nerve and muscle function of worms in the human body. There is currently no conclusive proof that it works in the case of Covid-19. He further added that ‘a number of clinical trials are going on but no evidence so far.’
On the other hand, Molnupiravir inhibits RNA synthesis of SARS-CoV-2 and is under clinical trials with encouraging results so far, he explained.
The claims that Molnupiravir is a repackaged version of Ivermectin are false. Both the drugs are different as can be seen from their chemical origin (one is sourced from nature and the other is a synthetic derivative) and how the two drugs work inside a human body.
Dr.Randeep Guleria- Director, AIIMS (New Delhi)
Dr. Ram Vishwakarma- Advisor to CSIR and former Director Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, Jammu
Dr.J.K.Saini- Chest Specialist, National Institute of Tuberculosis and Pulmonary diseases
Merck’s website on Molnupiravir
U.S National Library of Medicine website on Ivermectin