NIH has identified promising oral drug to treat COVID-19

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health say they have identified a potential new antiviral drug that could help treat COVID-19. 

The drug, TEMPOL, is a promising oral antiviral drug which researchers say limit SARS-CoV-2, the disease that causes COVID-19, by impairing the disease’s viral enzyme otherwise known as RNA replicate. 

RNA replicase is the enzyme that allows the virus to replicate its genetic material and make copies of itself once it has infected a host cell.

"We urgently need additional effective, accessible treatments for COVID-19," said Diana W. Bianchi, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). "An oral drug that prevents SARS-CoV-2 from replicating would be an important tool for reducing the severity of the disease."

Researchers who tested the drug in animals found that the treatment was effective against COVID-19 in primary targets of the disease like salivary glands and the lungs.

"Given TEMPOL’s safety profile and the dosage considered therapeutic in our study, we are hopeful," said Tracey A. Rouault, M.D., head of the NICHD Section on Human Iron Metabolism. "However, clinical studies are needed to determine if the drug is effective in patients, particularly early in the disease course when the virus begins to replicate."

Currently, the team researching TEMPOL is planning additional studies on animals to evaluate a potential clinical trial for the drugs used to treat COVID-19. 

Currently, the NIH is funding a large clinical trial it launched in April to see if existing prescription and over-the-counter medications could help treat people with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19.

The NIH says they hope to allow adults who are not sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID-19 to be able to treat themselves with medications that are already commonly available to the public. 

The NIH said they’re looking at seven drugs to see if they can help alleviate symptoms, but didn’t specify which ones. The drugs have already been approved by the FDA for other conditions, and the NIH said testing them now in COVID-19 patients is a process known as "drug repurposing."

Several drugs are already recommended to treat people hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the NIH. These include the antiviral drug remdesivir.

In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved remdesivir, an antiviral medication developed by Gilead Sciences, as a treatment for COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization.

The drug was the first fully approved treatment in the U.S. for COVID-19.

RELATED: Pfizer begins phase 1 study of oral COVID-19 treatment drug

In March, Pfizer began studying an oral antiviral drug with the hopes of treating COVID-19. The company said the drug in the trial, which is currently being conducted in the U.S., has already shown promising potential in treating people infected with the novel coronavirus as well as other coronaviruses.

On March 7, FOX News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel revealed on "FOX & Friends Weekend" that another new possible medication to treat coronavirus-positive patients could be enough to turn the pandemic on its head. First-stage testing of the experimental COVID-19 pill called Molnupiravir, by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, showed promising signs of effectiveness in reducing the virus in patients.

RELATED: COVID-19 pill effective in preliminary testing may be 'holy grail' of pandemic, doctor says

The drug would function as an at-home, five-day treatment, similar to Tamiflu, to stop the virus from reproducing before causing major damage. Siegel said the therapeutic could come to market in as little as four to five months.
The NIH also recommends other treatments for COVID-19 on their website.

This story was reported from Los Angeles. FOX News contributed.