(LONDON) — Drugmaker Pfizer Inc. has signed a deal with a U.N.-backed group to allow other manufacturers to make its experimental COVID-19 pill, a move that could make the treatment available to more than half of the world’s population.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Pfizer said it would grant a license for the antiviral pill to the Geneva-based Medicines Patent Pool, which would let generic drug companies produce the pill for use in 95 countries, making up about 53% of the world’s population.
Some large nations that suffered severe coronavirus epidemics are not included in the deal. The deal does not allow a Brazilian drug firm to export the medication to any other country. However, generic versions of the medicine cannot be manufactured in Brazil.
Still, health officials said the fact that the deal was struck even before Pfizer’s pill has been authorized anywhere, could help to end the pandemic quicker.
“It’s quite significant that we will be able to provide access to a drug that appears to be effective and has just been developed, to more than 4 billion people,” Esteban Burrone, head of policy at the Medicines Patent Pool, said.
He estimated that other drugmakers would be able to start producing the pill within months, but acknowledged the agreement wouldn’t please everyone.
“We try to strike a very delicate balance between the interests of the [company], the sustainability required by generic producers and most importantly, the public health needs in lower and middle-income countries,” Burrone said.
The agreement provides that Pfizer won’t receive royalty payments on sales to low-income countries. Pfizer also agrees not to pay royalties for sales made in countries where COVID-19 is still a public emergency.
Pfizer announced earlier this month that its pill reduced the chance of death and hospitalization by almost 90% for people suffering from mild or moderate coronavirus infection. Independent experts recommended halting the company’s study based on its promising results.
Pfizer indicated that the company would request the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and all other regulators to authorise the pill as soon possible.
Researches around the globe have worked tirelessly to find a way to make COVID-19 treatment more convenient. COVID-19 medications must currently be given intravenously, or by injection.
Britain authorized Merck’s COVID-19 pill earlier this month, and it is pending approval elsewhere. Merck announced a similar agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool in October. It agreed to allow other drugmakers to make Merck’s COVID-19 pill, Molnupiravir available in 105 countries.
Doctors Without Borders said it was “disheartened” that the Pfizer deal does not make the drug available to the entire world, noting that the agreement announced Tuesday also excludes countries including China, Argentina and Thailand.
“The world knows by now that access to COVID-19 medical tools needs to be guaranteed for everyone, everywhere, if we really want to control this pandemic,” said Yuanqiong Hu, a senior legal policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders.
Merck’s decision to disclose their COVID-19 pharmaceutical patents to Merck is striking in contrast to Pfizer’s refusal to allow wider distribution of their vaccine recipe. One pharmaceutical has yet to sign up for the South African hub established by World Health Organization to facilitate sharing of messenger RNA vaccine technology and recipe.
Fewer than 1% of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots have gone to poorer countries.