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Molnupiravir is an antiviral, currently approved by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for treating at-risk COVID-19 patients, that induces lethal error catastrophe in SARS-CoV-2. How this drug-induced mechanism of action might impact the emergence of resistance mutations is unclear. To investigate this, we used samples from the AGILE Candidate Specific Trial (CST)-2 (clinical trial number NCT04746183). The primary outcomes of AGILE CST-2 were to measure the drug safety and antiviral efficacy of molnupiravir in humans (180 participants randomised 1:1 with placebo). Here, we describe the pre-specified exploratory virological endpoint of CST-2, which was to determine the possible genomic changes in SARS-CoV-2 induced by molnupiravir treatment. We use high-throughput amplicon sequencing and minor variant analysis to characterise viral genomics in each participant whose longitudinal samples (days 1, 3 and 5 post-randomisation) pass the viral genomic quality criteria (n = 59 for molnupiravir and n = 65 for placebo). Over the course of treatment, no specific mutations were associated with molnupiravir treatment. We find that molnupiravir significantly increased the transition:transversion mutation ratio in SARS-CoV-2, consistent with the model of lethal error catastrophe. This study highlights the utility of examining intra-host virus populations to strengthen the prediction, and surveillance, of potential treatment-emergent adaptations.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Humans, Antiviral Agents, COVID-19, Genomics, SARS-CoV-2