Miguel Á. Padriñán /

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Researchers are signaling new hope in the fight against coronavirus. A new drug, headed for clinical trials, could become the first antiviral medication approved to treat the virus.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says a team of scientists have developed a treatment, called EIDD-2801, which may reduce lung damage in patients suffering from COVID-19. The drug would also come in pill form, making it even easier to give to patients.

“This new drug not only has high potential for treating COVID-19 patients, but also appears effective for the treatment of other serious coronavirus infections,” Prof. Ralph Baric said in a university release.

Researchers found that EIDD-2801 could be taken as a pill and still be properly absorbed by a patient’s lungs. It successfully prevented severe lung damage in mice that contracted coronavirus. Researchers say it worked in the animals if treated between 12 and 24 hours after being infected.

What Does It Mean For Human Patients?

Scientists say the window for treating human patients will be larger since the virus takes longer to turn fatal in people compared to mice.

“We are amazed at the ability of EIDD-1931 and -2801 to inhibit all tested coronaviruses and the potential for oral treatment of COVID-19,” Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Andrea Pruijssers said.

The researchers say other potential COVID-19 treatments usually have to be given intravenously. EIDD-2801 would give doctors a way to treat more people with mild cases of the virus. The pill would also help protect places where infection can spread quickly, like a nursing home.

Since the start of April, more than one million people have been infected with COVID-19. More than 58,000 have died during the pandemic.

When Could The Drug Be Available?

Clinical trials in human coronavirus patients is scheduled to start this spring.

Scientists say if the trials are a success, the drug will be able to treat current patients as well as future strains of the illness.

“It is likely that we will continue to see more,” study author Timothy Sheahan warned. “EIDD-2801 holds promise to not only treat COVID-19 patients today, but to treat new coronaviruses that may emerge in the future.”

The results of the tests using EIDD-2801 were published in Science Translational Medicine.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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