UNC-Chapel Hill scientists say they are pretty sure they’ve found an “oral drug” that prevents COVID-19.

Researchers at the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Gillings School of Public Health published a paper Tuesday that details the first trial of treating SARS-CoV-2 with the experimental drug Molnupiravir, also known as EIDD-2801. 

Although the official data has not been finalized, the group found that human lung tissue implanted in mice responded well to the drug—that the virus stopped replicating and stopped infecting the human cells. A similar study from December at Georgia State University showed that Molnupiravir worked on preventing COVID in ferrets. 

“We found that EIDD-2801 had a remarkable effect on virus replication after only two days of treatment – a dramatic, more than 25,000-fold reduction in the number of infectious particles in human lung tissue when treatment was initiated 24 hours post-exposure,” senior author and UNC professor J. Victor Garcia said in a press release.

While several vaccinations have been developed or are still in the works to create COVID immunity, mass manufacturing and storage options are complicating the promises of achieving herd immunity. Last week the UNC Health Care System recently received more than $2 million from FEMA that will cover the costs associated with vaccination distribution, like PPE for administrators and ways to store the vaccine. The government organization says this would cover all costs for 90 days.

“This is welcome and promising news,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz tweeted. “#UNC researchers have done incredible work not only to help us respond to COVID-19, but also to ensure we’re prepared for future disease outbreaks.”

While the drug undergoes its second and third trial phases (and tested on humans for the first time), North Carolina is preparing to enter the third wave of COVID vaccinations. Governor Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that Group 3, now including teachers and school administration, can start getting their vaccinations on February 24.

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