Oct 6, 2021 - COVID
Vanderbilt involved in another big pandemic development
A sign outside the entrance of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Vanderbilt researchers made key discoveries that drove the development of a new antiviral pill for COVID-19 patients.

  • Pharmaceutical company Merck last week announced plans to seek authorization for the pill, saying it cut in half the risk of hospitalization or death during a clinical trial.

Why it matters: Vanderbilt University Medical Center emerged as a leading force in the pandemic — with some help from Dolly Parton.

  • Continued pandemic successes could spur more funding and high-profile projects for the city's biggest employer.

Details: The antiviral drug is another watershed moment. It was developed in partnership with investigators at Emory University and UNC-Chapel Hill, with subsequent development from Merck and Ridgeback Therapeutics.

  • Investigators in VUMC professor Mark Denison's lab found evidence the antiviral, known as molnupiravir, could be effective against COVID.
  • Subsequent animal testing showed the drug prevented severe lung damage in infected mice.

Between the lines: Denison told Axios that he and his team had researched coronaviruses for decades.

  • His lab was investigating molnupiravir and remdesivir years before they became critical tools against the pandemic. Denison even had to explain and justify his research focus to skeptics.
  • "It's not science fiction. You don’t go into a lab and then come out in 24 hours with an answer," Denison said.
  • Denison's lab is continuing to examine molnupiravir, remdesivir, and new drugs while also researching the efficacy of different drug combinations.

Context: VUMC has been involved on several fronts in the battle against COVID-19.

What they're saying: "From conducting vaccine trials, treating COVID patients, advising on health policy, and now helping to develop a COVID pill, VUMC has played a critical role throughout the pandemic," Mayor John Cooper said in a statement to Axios. "Nashville is fortunate to have VUMC in our community."


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