Covid-19: Why it’s so difficult to make antiviral drugs

Destroying viruses is elementary. Keeping host cells alive while we do it is the hard part. That is the critical challenge of developing an antiviral drug.

Antiviral drug, Remdesivir,
Destroying viruses is elementary. Keeping host cells alive while we do it is the hard part. That is the critical challenge of developing an antiviral drug | Image - Eunice Dhivya

Remdesivir, made by Gilead Sciences, is the only drug approved by USFDA for the treatment of Covid-19. The molecule disrupts the replication of the new coronaviruses and slows the infection.

Endorsed by bedside medical caregivers worldwide, it is one of the widely used drugs for treatment. The drug regimen requires multiple intravenous infusions, and hence, is given only to hospitalised patients. However, by the time the person is hospitalised, the virus has spread across the body. Remdesivir is often too late to do much good.

However, unseating it from the pedestal, the World Health Organization (WHO) in November 2020 announced, based on results of four trials, that Remdesivir “has not helped in curtailing mortality or reducing the need for mechanical ventilation among hospitalised COVID-19 patients”. At best, the available evidence suggests that Remdesivir does not seem to save lives but speeds recovery in those who do get well.

Surely, we need more antivirals to be able to choose from. So why don't we have them? While 10-odd vaccines having been developed, why is it that the antivirals for treatment are so far behind.

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