Researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom have revealed that Lagevrio, a drug designed by Merck meant to treat COVID, is causing the virus to mutate in patients.
This creates the potential for more communicable and deadly versions of COVID to emerge in the future.
When one studies how Lagevrio works, this should not come as a shock. The pill attacks the COVID virus by trying to alter its genetic code.
Once inside a human cell, a virus can make 10,000 copies of its genetic code in a few hours. Each copy made increases the risk the virus makes a rare mistake and creates an inexact replica.
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This is how mutations happen as we have seen with COVID. A drug that deliberately alters a virus’s genetic code would greatly increase the mutation risk.
Moreover, Merck was warned by multiple scientists their drug might create problematic mutations which would render the virus more dangerous and difficult to treat. The company decided to blow off any concerns and put Lagevrio on the market anyway.
Here is the full report from Bloomberg:
Merck & Co.’s Covid-19 pill is giving rise to new mutations of the virus in some patients, according to a study that underscores the risk of trying to intentionally alter the pathogen’s genetic code.
Some researchers worry the drug may create more contagious or health-threatening variations of Covid, which has killed more than 6.8 million people globally over the past three years.
Mutations linked to the use of Merck’s pill, Lagevrio, have been identified in viral samples taken from dozens of patients, according to a preprint study from researchers in the US and at the Francis Crick Institute, Imperial College London and other UK institutions.
The drug-linked mutations of the virus haven’t been shown to be more immune-evasive or lethal yet, according to the study published Friday without peer review on the medRxiv website. But their very existence highlights what some scientists say are potential risks in wider use of the drug, which was recently cleared in China.
Lagevrio works by creating mutations in the Covid genome that prevent the virus from replicating in the body, reducing the chances it will cause severe illness. Some scientists had warned before it was authorized in late 2021 that by virtue of how it works, the drug could give rise to mutations that could turn out to be problematic. The preprint paper has reawakened those worries about the Merck drug.
“There’s always been this underlying concern that it could contribute to a problem generating new variants,” said Jonathan Li, a virologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “This has largely been hypothetical, but this preprint validates a lot of those concerns.”