VCU’s Medicines for All Institute drives down production costs of molnupiravir, the first investigational pill to treat COVID-19

B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D.
B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D.

The Medicines for All Institute (M4ALL) in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering has developed low-cost manufacturing processes for molnupiravir, the first investigational pill to treat COVID-19, as reported in the recent press release from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These new methods will expand global availability of the antiviral drug. 

Discovered by Emory University scientists, molnupiravir was developed by Merck & Co. in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. As an oral medication, it can be administered early in the progression of COVID-19 and is believed to lessen the severity of the illness. 

M4ALL has demonstrated multiple novel, efficient synthetic routes that can be used for the large-scale manufacture of molnupiravir. These processes are available to any manufacturer. Several of M4ALL’s routes rely on widely available starting materials. These routes are expected to prevent supply chain difficulties and reduce costs of molnupiravir. M4ALL’s efficient, high-yield enzymatic process requires only two chemical transformations, cutting the number of steps in half.

"We were fortunate to be in a position to work on this important treatment for COVID-19 during the pandemic. We have received numerous inquiries and are supporting global manufacturers to implement our processing technology," said B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., founder and CEO of M4ALL and VCU Engineering’s Floyd D. Gottwald, Jr. Chair in Pharmaceutical Engineering and professor and chair of VCU’s Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering. 

M4ALL has been driving down the production costs of drugs that fight HIV, malaria and tuberculosis since it was established at the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering in 2017 with major funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In early 2020, the institute marshalled its resources to tackle the urgent new threat of the coronavirus. 

M4ALL’s manufacturing optimization process for lifesaving drugs reduces costs, increases efficiencies and spurs technical innovation to give competitive advantages in the production of essential medications. M4ALL is also a recognized leader in the development of green chemistry methods to reduce waste and decrease pollution.