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Researchers studying antiviral pill effective at treating, preventing COVID-19

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Posted at 8:18 PM, Mar 15, 2021

NORFOLK, Va. - It’s been a long road to recovery for Hampton native Deion Campbell.

“When I caught COVID, I got the absolute worst,” Campbell said. It was life-threatening, to say the least.”

This month marks one year since he was diagnosed with COVID-19. He told News 3 that at one point, he spent 12 days on a ventilator.

“Physical therapy, for me, it started out for me just sitting up in the bed inside the hospital,” he said.

Since then, he's worked on getting his motor skills back while addressing nerve damage in his right arm.

A video posted to his Instagram days ago shows his progress.

“I was just feeling so blessed,” Campbell said. “I'm really standing here, and I got my arm up with a two-pound dumbbell. This is a big deal for me. When you couldn't lift it at all, that's a huge milestone for me to hit.”

Dr. Victor Garcia, a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC the School of Medicine, said his mother also battled COVID-19.

“Frankly, I thought she was going to die,” Garcia said.

At the time, he and others studied a possible therapeutic for the virus known as molnupiravir.

“I wish I had some pills to send her,” he said. “I'm very glad that she's OK.”

The drug is an antiviral pill currently being developed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in partnership with Merck.

Ridgeback officials tell News 3 it can reduce the severity of COVID-19 and is expected to be broad-acting against multiple viruses.

They said preliminary findings from a Phase 2 trial are encouraging.

“At day five after treatment, when they look at the patients that received the drug or received the placebo, none of the patients that received the drug had any detectable viral in their nasal swabs,” Garcia said of the trial’s preliminary findings.

Garcia calls it a game changer.

“You might be familiar with Tamiflu,” Garcia said. “This would be almost like taking antibiotics."

“It would be something very simple that could be easily prepared, easily distributed, easily administered and that you could probably just go get at your drug store,” he added.

His lab found it could be used not just for treatment, but also for prevention.

“We were able to reduce the amount of virus present in the lung of the animals by 96%. That's a pretty dramatic reduction,” Garcia said of his independent study’s findings. “When we did prevention, if the drug was administered ahead of time, the infection was virtually gone.”

While encouraged, Garcia said the drug must be safe, if approved.

“Hope is present, and we are all looking to a better day,” Garcia said.

Meanwhile, Campbell sees it as more progress.

“Progress is key,” Campbell said. “It's about how to respond to COVID. This is how we do it. We take action.”