As it turns out, all the scientists and doctors who insisted that Merck’s “revolutionary” COVID drug molnupiravir is extremely safe weren’t faithfully adhering to “the science” after all. Because according to a report published Thursday by Barron’s, some scientists are worried that the drug – which purportedly cut hospitalizations in half during a study that was cut short – could cause cancer or birth defects.
So much for having a “strong safety profile,” as Dr. Scott Gottlieb claimed in an interview on the day Merck first publicized the research.
It’s perfectly understandable why Merck might choose to play down this safety risk: assuming it’s approved, the drug is widely expected to be one of “the most lucrative drugs ever” – which is one reason why Merck’s shares soared into double-digit territory after the announcement.
As we reported earlier this week, Merck and its “partner” Ridgeback Biotherapeutics will profit immensely by charging customers up to 40x what it costs to make the drug, which Ridgeback originally licensed from Emory University for an “undisclosed sum”. The drug was developed with funding from the federal government.
According to Barron’s, some scientists who have studied the drug believe that its method of suppressing the virus could potentially run amok within the body.
Some scientists who have studied the drug warn, however, that the method it uses to kill the virus that causes Covid-19 carries potential dangers that could limit the drug’s usefulness.
Molnupiravir works by incorporating itself into the genetic material of the virus, and then causing a huge number of mutations as the virus replicates, effectively killing it. In some lab tests, the drug has also shown the ability to integrate into the genetic material of mammalian cells, causing mutations as those cells replicate.
If that were to happen in the cells of a patient being treated with molnupiravir, it could theoretically lead to cancer or birth defects.