When Merck & Co. first announced their COVID-19 pill, it was heralded as a potential game-changer. Their COVID-19 antiviral drug has already received its emergency use authorization to treat COVID-19 patients from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel, but it was narrowly decided due to the concerns of potential mutations in human DNA, particularly in unborn fetuses.
Merck’s COVID-19 Pill Poses Risk to Unborn Fetuses
The Seattle Times reported that just two weeks after the FDA expert committee narrowly voted to authorize Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral drug, some scientists expressed their concerns regarding the drug’s effect on pregnant women.
They said that the drug could change or affect the dividing cells of fetuses and will likely cause birth defects. Members of the expert committee of the FDA have also expressed similar concerns during their recent meeting on November 30, saying that the drug may reduce the risk of mothers contracting the infection by 30% but raises the chances of harming the unborn child.
Furthermore, FDA advisers noted that the risk might extend to other patients, such as men wanting to become fathers. But as of now, it is poorly assessed and the pharmaceutical company said that their studies did not show any evidence of DNA mutations.
Hope for COVID-19 Pill Remains
Despite these alarming concerns, Nature reported that many are still hoping for antiviral treatments, such as the molnupiravir, to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus. The confirmed global death toll due to COVID-19 has already reached more than 5 million, and the Omicron variant is even spreading rapidly.
Experts said that because of how molnupiravir works, it should theoretically be effective no matter the variant. However, this is unlikely because no antiviral yet can face against all variants of SARS-CoV-2.
Nonetheless, public health officials are keen on finding alternatives. This includes the COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid that is said to cut hospitalizations and death by around 89%, although the full data is not yet released or peer-reviewed. Experts hope that research on antiviral drugs could still lead to new drugs that will eliminate the SARS-CoV-2.