Merck’s COVID pill sparks calls for access for poor countries

The firm has taken the unusual pandemic step of licensing several generics of its antiviral Molnupiravir before its branded version was even authorised for marketing
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The plan to roll out Merck’s anti-viral pill to treat COVID-19 risks repeating the inequities of vaccine distribution, is potentially leaving the nations with the greatest need once again at the back of the line, international health groups say.

For example, only about five per cent of Africa’s population is immunised, creating an urgent need for therapeutics that could keep people out of hospitals. That compares with more than a 70 per cent inoculation rate in most wealthy nations. Merck on 11th October applied for the US emergency clearance of the first pill for COVID-19 after it cut hospitalisations and deaths by 50 per cent in a large clinical trial. The medicine could gain authorisation as soon as December.

The firm has taken the unusual pandemic step of licensing several generics of its antiviral Molnupiravir before its branded version was even authorised for marketing. However, international health officials said even that is not enough for the pill to reach many in low- and middle-income countries in large enough numbers, while noting shortcomings and red tape among global organisations that could further slow distribution.

In addition, its licensing deals with eight Indian drugmakers will allow cheaper generic versions for 109 low- and middle-income countries including in Africa, a move international groups acknowledge is a positive concession. But as wealthy nations secure Molnupiravir deals — the US has already locked up 1.7 million courses with an option for 3.5 million more by January 2023 at about $700 per course — concerns grow over who might be left out.

COVID-19 drugMerck's antiviral COVID-19 pillmolnupiravir
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