(LONDON) – Pharmaceutical company Merck has agreed to allow other drug manufacturers to make its COVID-19 pill to give millions of people in poorer countries access to the potentially life-saving drug, a United Nations-backed public health service said Organization on Wednesday with.
The Medicines Patent Pool announced in a statement that it has signed a voluntary molnupiravir licensing agreement with Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
The agreement will allow the Medicines Patent Pool to grant additional licenses to qualified companies approved to manufacture the drug. No drug manufacturer will receive royalties under the agreement as long as the World Health Organization classifies COVID-19 as a global emergency. Molnupiravir is the first pill that has been shown to treat the disease.
Charles Gore, the executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool, said the initial results for molnupiravir are “compelling” and he hoped this first voluntary licensing agreement for one COVID-19 treatment would lead to others.
Despite repeated requests from governments and health authorities, no vaccine manufacturers have reached a similar agreement. A hub set up by the WHO in South Africa intends to share recipes and technologies for messenger RNA vaccines, has not attracted a single pharmaceutical to join.
Merck reported this month that molnupiravir Reduce hospital stays and deaths by half in patients with early symptoms of COVID-19. The results were so convincing that independent medical experts who monitored the study recommended that it end early.
An antiviral pill that people could take at home to relieve their symptoms and speed recovery could prove groundbreaking, reducing the crushing case burden of hospitals and helping contain outbreaks in poorer countries with weak health systems.
It would also strengthen a two-pronged approach to dealing with the pandemic: treatment through medication and prevention, especially through vaccination.
Doctors Without Borders charity welcomed the agreement Merck made to share its COVID-19 pill, but said it didn’t go far enough.
“The license excludes key upper-middle-income countries such as Brazil and China that have strong, established antiviral drug manufacturing and supply capabilities,” said Yuanqiong Hu, senior legal and policy advisor at MSF who called the deal “disappointing”.
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