New antiviral Drug May Shorten COVID-19-Induced Loss of Taste and Smell

New antiviral Drug May Shorten COVID-19-Induced Loss of Taste and Smell

Taste and smell loss are two symptoms of COVID-19, sometimes lasting years post-infection. New research indicates one drug may reduce duration of such symptoms.

New data suggest scientists have discovered a medication first designed to treat COVID-19 may also lessen the time it takes for two common symptoms of the disease: loss of taste and smell—to disappear.

The oral antiviral drug ensitrelvir (brand name Xocova) was granted a Fast Track designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be investigated as a potential treatment for COVID-19 in April. Soon after, results from randomized clinical trials published in Clinical Infectious Diseases showed ensitrelvir was safe, effective, and successful in suppressing viral replication in patients with mild to moderate COVID-19.

Ensitrelvir is now gaining traction as a potential solution to address COVID-19’s symptoms of loss of taste and smell—two sensory problems that can linger for up to years after the acute infection has subsided. The drug’s multipurpose use is based on the results of a study by researchers from the drug’s co-developer, pharmaceutical giant Shionogi Inc., a United States subsidiary of Shionogi & Co. Ltd. based in Osaka, Japan.

Ensitrelvir Improves Taste and Smell Symptoms

In a poster presentation, Shionogi presented data demonstrating that patients given ensitrelvir within three days of the onset of symptoms may have benefited from the medication by preventing or reducing the loss of taste and smell. Researchers also presented their analysis of the phase 2/3 clinical study results, showing a “significantly smaller proportion of patients had taste disorder or smell disorder on Day 7 when treated with 125 [milligrams] of ensitrelvir versus a placebo,” according to a news release.

“As an investigator who has evaluated both clinical data and real-world experience with ensitrelvir, I am optimistic about its potential to become an important tool in managing the unpredictability of COVID-19,” said Dr. Yohei Doi, a professor of medicine at Fujita Health University in Japan, said in the news release. “The new data … offer another reason to have confidence in this investigational agent and its potential to be a meaningful treatment option for patients.”

The findings were presented in Boston at the October 2023 IDWeek meeting, an annual conference that brings together infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists from around the globe.

Ensitrelvir remains an investigational drug, having received emergency approval in Japan in November 2022 to treat COVID-19. It has not been approved for use outside of Japan. However, Takeki Uehara, senior vice president of drug development and regulatory science at Shionogi, hopes this will change.

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