UNC-Chapel Hill research shows promise for antiviral drug to treat COVID-19

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Go to the doctor. Get a prescription. Get it filled at the pharmacy. Take maybe a couple of pills by mouth twice a day for around five days and start to feel better.

That could be the standard way to treat COVID-19 possibly within the next few months.

Think about that. No hospital stays. No ventilators. No intravenous infusions.

You’ve probably heard in recent months about the preliminary success of an experimental drug in human trials.

A couple of researchers in the UNC-Chapel Hill School of medicine are taking this research a step further.

Prior to the pandemic, Dr. Victor Garcia and Dr. Angela Wahl were working on a new model to study how viruses and bacteria take aim at our respiratory systems.

“When we heard about the new coronavirus that was being reported in China, we immediately saw the opportunity to move our efforts toward the new virus,” Dr. Garcia told me during a recent virtual interview. “And then we were able to ask questions about what type of drugs might be effective. This one is the one that hit the home run.”

That “one” is the drug EIDD-2801. It was originally developed a few years back to treat the flu but was never approved to do so.

Researchers at UNC have been testing it on human lung tissue they’ve implanted in mice.

“So what the drug did is that it dramatically reduces the amount of virus that can grow in the piece of the human lung,” Dr. Garcia said. “Those numbers were extremely powerful, and they were equally positive whether the drug was administered prior to infection or it was administered after infection.”

In other words, the team determined EIDD-2801 was effective in both preventing AND treating COVID-19.

“So it’s something that can just be prescribed, could potentially be prescribed by a doctor.” Dr. Wahl told me. “You pick it up at the pharmacy, and you take it home.”

Both Dr. Wahl and Dr. Garcia are confident this drug could become the first antiviral to treat COVID-19 much like Tamiflu is used to treat the flu.

This research is separate from the current human trials involving EIDD-2801. But the UNC researchers feel their work will only compliment the success in the human trials and possibly speed up the Food and Drug Administration approving it.

It’s important to point out, however, this drug—when and if it’s available—won’t give you long-term protection. So it will never take the place of a vaccine. But you have to keep in mind this virus is and will more than likely continue to evolve into more variants.

“And so that’s why I think it’s also important to have more tools available to use than just a vaccine,” Dr. Wahl said. “(We also need) antivirals that can also be effective against the virus.”

For more information on this research happening at UNC-Chapel Hill, click here.

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