According to a United Nations-backed public health agency, Merck has agreed to allow other drug companies to produce its COVID-19 tablet, in a move aimed at helping millions of patients in poorer nations have access to the potentially life-saving treatment.
Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have signed a voluntary licensing agreement for molnupiravir, according to the Medicines Patent Pool.
The Medicines Patent Pool will be able to grant further licenses to qualified companies that have been approved to manufacture the medicine as a result of the arrangement. Under the terms of the agreement, neither drug producer will be paid royalties as long as the World Health Organization considers COVID-19 to be a worldwide emergency. The first drug that has been shown to treat the condition is molnupiravir.
The early results for molnupiravir are “compelling,” according to Charles Gore, executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool, who hopes that this first voluntary license deal for a COVID-19 medication will lead to others.
No vaccine manufacturers have consented to a comparable contract despite repeated demands from governments and health professionals. A WHO hub in South Africa set up to share messenger RNA vaccine formulations and technologies has yet to get a single pharmaceutical company to participate.
Merck has asked the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency to approve its medication, which might happen in the coming weeks.
Molnupiravir, according to Merck, reduced hospitalizations and fatalities in individuals with early COVID-19 symptoms by half. The findings were so compelling that independent medical professionals overseeing the experiment suggested that it be terminated early.
An antiviral medication that individuals might take at home to lessen symptoms and hasten recovery may be revolutionary, easing the burden on hospitals and assisting in the control of outbreaks in poorer nations with weakened health care systems.
It would also support a two-pronged strategy to the pandemic: medication-based treatment and vaccination-based prevention.
Doctors Without Borders applauded Merck’s commitment to disclose its COVID-19 medication, but said it did not go far enough.
“The license excludes crucial upper-middle-income nations like Brazil and China from its region, where there is significant, proven ability to make and sell antiviral medicines,” said Yuanqiong Hu, a senior legal and policy consultant at Doctors Without Borders.