Merck Will Allow Other Drug Manufacturers to Produce Its COVID-19 Pill

(LONDON) —Pharmaceutical company Merck agreed to allow other drug makers to produce its COVID-19 pill, in a move aimed at helping millions of people in poorer countries get access to the potentially life-saving drug, a United Nations-backed public health organization said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the Medicines Patent Pool stated that it signed a voluntary licensing agreement with Merck for Molnupiravir and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

It will enable the Medicines Patent Pool, which is authorized to license additional companies to produce the drug, to enter into the agreement. The royalty agreement does not apply to drug makers. It will only be in effect for the time that COVID-19 has been declared an emergency by the World Health Organization. Molnupiravir, the first medication that is known to help the disease, was discovered.
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Charles Gore, the executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool, said the early results for molnupiravir were “compelling” and that he hoped this first voluntary licensing agreement for a COVID-19 treatment would lead to others.

No vaccine maker has agreed to such a deal despite repeated requests by governments and health officials. WHO South Africa has established a hub to facilitate the sharing of messenger RNA vaccine technology and protocols. No pharmaceutical company has yet to sign up.

Merck requested that its pill be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency. Decisions could take place within weeks.

Merck announced this month that patients suffering from COVID-19 early signs and symptoms saw a half-off in hospitalizations. These strong results led to independent medical professionals recommending that the trial be stopped immediately.

People could make an antiviral tablet at home that would reduce symptoms and speeds up recovery. It could be revolutionary and help ease the heavy caseload in hospitals.

This would support a dual approach to pandemics: prevention and treatment, with vaccinations being the primary method of prevention.

The charity Doctors Without Borders welcomed the agreement Merck struck to share its COVID-19 pill, but said it didn’t go far enough.

“The license excludes key upper-middle-income countries like Brazil and China from its territory, where there are strong, established capacity to produce and supply antiviral medicines,” said Yuanqiong Hu, a senior legal and policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, who called the deal “disappointing.”


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