How the rise of antivirals may change the course of the pandemic
Making them isn't easy. But new pills to treat COVID-19 are now showing promise at curbing illness and saving lives.
Years before the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, virologists started a quest to find drugs called antivirals that can protect people against emerging coronaviruses. The journey has been slow and failures have been frequent. But with Britain’s authorization this week of Merck’s new drug molnupiravir, and a cash infusion into antiviral R&D, the outlook for these treatments is getting much brighter.
Unlike vaccines that can prevent infection, antivirals act as a second line of defense, slowing down and eventually arresting progression of a disease when infections occur. They’re also important when effective vaccines aren’t available against viral diseases, as is the case for HIV, hepatitis C, and herpes.
But developing antivirals is an expensive and difficult endeavor. That’s especially true for acute