An experimental COVID-19 treatment pill, called molnupiravir and being developed by Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP, is seen in this undated handout photo released by Merck & Co Inc and obtained by Reuters May 17, 2021. Merck & Co Inc/Handout via REUTERS
A UN-backed agency has struck a deal with nearly 30 generic drugmakers to make low-cost versions of Merck’s COVID-19 pill molnupiravir for poorer countries, expanding access to a drug seen as a weapon to fight the pandemic.
The antiviral drug, which received emergency use approval in the US in December, reduces hospitalizations and deaths by about 30% in high-risk patients, according to clinical trials.
The agreement, negotiated by the U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) with Merck, allows 27 generic drugmakers from India, China and other countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to manufacture ingredients and the finished drug.
The MPP said on Thursday the agreement would see the pill distributed to 105 least developed countries.
The developers of molnupiravir, which together with Merck are the US company Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Emory University, will not receive royalties from the sale of cheap versions made by generic drug companies as long as COVID-19 is classified as a public health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) .
“This is a critical step in ensuring global access to a much-needed COVID-19 treatment, and we are confident that with manufacturers working closely with regulatory authorities, pre-treatments will be rapidly available,” said MPP CEO Charles Gore .
Bangladesh’s Beximco Pharmaceuticals, India’s Natco Pharma, South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare and China’s Fosun Pharma are among the generic drug companies that will manufacture the final product.