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The Avengers join the pandemic response: New anti-COVID drug named after Thor's mighty hammer

By Josh Weiss

It seems as though Asgard has provided some of its miraculous science to Midgard in humanity's ongoing battle against COVID-19. Well, not really, but molnupiravir, a new antiviral pill developed by Merck — named for Thor's mighty hammer, Mjolnir — could be a game-changing jolt for doctors treating patients who test positive for the novel coronavirus. In keeping with the Norse mythology theme we've got going here, molnupiravir could turn out to be a literal godsend (sorry).

According to a new report by Stat, the treatment (described as a "five-day course") reduces the chance of hospitalization and death by an estimated 50 percent. In addition, it's also proving effective against the most worrying COVID variants of the day: Gamma, Delta, and Mu. It sounds like just what we need, especially in those rare instances when a person cannot be vaccinated or a fully vaccinated individual has a breakthrough infection with the potential to send them to the ICU.

"As you are well aware, it is likely that we’re going to see continued evolution of those variants," Dean Li, head of Merck’s research and development, told Stat. “Our prediction from our in vitro studies and now with this data is that molnupiravir is named after the right — you know, it’s named after Thor’s hammer [Mjollnir], this is a hammer against SARS-CoV-2 regardless of the variant."

The pill regimen apparently works by summoning a bolt of lightning that decimates all the COVID inside a person's cells. Ok, we made that part up. Molnupiravir actually works by damaging the virus's RNA, effectively impairing its ability to replicate and spread throughout the body. Still cool as hell — and a spot of Marvel-ously bright news in what constantly feels like a dark hellscape of one bad turn of events after another.

"When people talk about endemic COVID and the future of COVID, they don’t spend as much time talking about the value of intervening early to reduce severity of disease and that’s a very valuable tool,” said Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at Emory University (with a concentration in the field of infectious disease). "The more accessible that can be, the more effective it can be."