Fighting COVID-19 with an Antiviral Pill

As COVID-19 swept across the globe, Emory scientists were already developing a potential groundbreaking treatment for the deadly virus.

For years, scientists George Painter, PhD, Gregory Bluemling, PhD, Michael Natchus, PhD, David Guthrie, PhD, and David Perryman, JD, had been working on an antiviral drug known as EIDD-2801, which was being studied as a treatment for a number of highly infectious viral diseases.

George Painter, PhD

Now known as molnupiravir – named after Thor’s mythical hammer – it was one of the first approved oral medications for the treatment of COVID-19.

From Emory to the world

Once molnupiravir got its start at Emory, it was further advanced and developed by the Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE) LLC. DRIVE, with more than $20M in foundational funding from Emory, translates academic research into drugs that treat viral diseases. Molnupiravir was DRIVE’s first drug to make it to market.

From DRIVE, molnupiravir was licensed to Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in 2020, which conducted the first human clinical trials. With the trials showing promise for the treatment of COVID-19, Ridgeback partnered with Merck, who continued the clinical trials.

“What happened with molnupiravir shows the strength of our system. The federal government funded us initially. We worked hard for many years to discover and develop molnupiravir to anticipate and address emerging infections. In the face of the pandemic, we moved the drug quickly into the hands of biotech, and it quickly got through phase 1.”

George Painter, PhD

In November 2021, molnupiravir was approved for use for at-risk patients in the United Kingdom, making it one of the world’s first approved oral medications for treating COVID-19. Just over a month later, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization for molnupiravir as a “treatment of mild-to-moderate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in adults with positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 viral testing.”


Molnupiravir wasn’t a first line of defense: The drug was authorized for use in patients with a high risk of the disease escalating in severity, resulting in hospitalization or death. Additionally, the FDA’s conditional authorization specified the drug should be used by patients for whom alternative approved treatments were not feasible.

A powerful treatment beyond COVID-1

The drug prevents the COVID-19 virus from replicating by inducing errors in the viral enzyme that copies SARS-CoV-2’s genetic material. This method is thought to be effective against multiple SARS-CoV-2 viral variants – not just COVID-19.

And effective it was: In additional clinical trials, data indicated that molnupiravir eliminated infectious coronavirus from nose swabs within five days as compared to the placebo group.

In addition to its strength, molnupiravir is also practical. It can be administered orally rather than intravenously, providing an alternative method of treatment. It also can be distributed easily, as it has no specific transportation requirements and can be provided as a pill in an outpatient setting.

This drug holds promise for the future of global public health. As molnupiravir continues to help at-risk COVID-19 patients, the dedicated team of Emory scientists look toward the future: studying it as a treatment for other infectious diseases like encephalitis, influenza, and other RNA viruses.

For more on molnupiravir from Emory: