Molnupiravir, an antiviral medication that has been widely used against SARS-CoV-2, acts by inducing mutations in the virus genome during replication. Most random mutations are likely to be deleterious to the virus, and many will be lethal. Molnupiravir-induced elevated mutation rates have been shown to decrease viral load in animal models. However, it is possible that some patients treated with molnupiravir might not fully clear SARS-CoV-2 infections, with the potential for onward transmission of molnupiravir-mutated viruses. We set out to systematically investigate global sequencing databases for a signature of molnupiravir mutagenesis. We find that a specific class of long phylogenetic branches appear almost exclusively in sequences from 2022, after the introduction of molnupiravir treatment, and in countries and age-groups with widespread usage of the drug. We calculate a mutational spectrum from the AGILE placebo-controlled clinical trial of molnupiravir and show that its signature, with elevated G-to-A and C-to-T rates, largely corresponds to the mutational spectrum seen in these long branches. Our data suggest a signature of molnupiravir mutagenesis can be seen in global sequencing databases, in some cases with onwards transmission.
Here, we show that global sequencing databases contain evidence of mutagenesis by the antiviral molnupiravir. We identify a mutational spectrum that identifies phylogenetic branches involving this drug, and show that in some case molnupiravir-mutagenised viruses have been transmitted on to form further infections.