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News Article

Merck to Share COVID-19 Pill Formula with Developing Countries

By Antonio Gozain | Thu, 10/28/2021 - 11:21

Merck (MSD) signed a royalty-free agreement with UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) for its COVID-19 pill. Thanks to this voluntary deal, molnupiravir will be manufactured and sold cheaply in the nations where vaccines are in short supply.

“The MPP/MSD licensing agreement is a positive step towards creating broader access to the treatment as quickly as possible by allowing generic licensees from around the world to prepare supplies and create more affordable versions of the medicine, pending WHO recommendations and other regulatory authorizations,” said WHO in a press release.

Merck’s experimental antiviral pill halves the chances of dying or being hospitalized for severe COVID-19 illness, reported MBN. The American multinational drugmaker informed earlier in October its plans to submit an application for Emergency Use Authorization to the US FDA “as soon as possible.”

The license granted by Merck to MPP will allow companies in 105 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia, to sublicense the formula for molnupiravir and begin its production as soon as the clinical research data is available and analyzed by WHO. More developed nations, such as the US, “have rushed to negotiate” deals to buy the drug, hoarding large portions of the supply even before its approval by regulating organizations and “raising concerns that poor countries could be shut out of access to the medicine, much as they have been for vaccines,” reported The New York Times.

“The interim results for molnupiravir are compelling and we see this oral treatment candidate as a potentially important tool to help address the current health crisis. This transparent, public health-driven agreement is MPP’s first voluntary license for a COVID-19 medical technology, and we hope that Merck’s agreement with MPP will be a strong encouragement to others,” said Charles Gore, Executive Director, MPP.

Unlike COVID-19 vaccines, which target the spike protein on the outside of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, molnupiravir targets an enzyme that the virus uses to copy itself. The pill prevents the virus from multiplying by introducing errors into its RNA. Generic drugmakers in developing countries will be able to market the COVID-19 pill for US$20 per treatment, which lasts five days, compared to the US$712 that the US government agreed to pay Merck for its initial purchase, according to Harvard University.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has urged WHO to approve Sputnik and CanSino’s COVID-19 vaccines, which have been administered massively in the country, to avoid discrimination to Mexicans travelling abroad. Meanwhile, the Mexican government and health authorities have not spoken about the pill nor the royalty-free agreement between Merck and MPP yet.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
MBN, WHO, Merck, The New York Times
Antonio Gozain Antonio Gozain Journalist and Industry Analyst