Countries rush to buy experimental antiviral Covid-19 pills


Merck & Co Inc has signed deals to sell more than 7 million courses of its experimental Covic-19 pill molnupiravir to governments around the world as nations try to tame the pandemic.

The treatment, which received its first regulatory approval globally in Britain, where it is planned to be marketed under the LAGEVRIO trademark, is not the only one in the game.

Last month US peer Pfizer Inc halted early a trial of its antiviral drug Paxlovid after it proved to cut the risk of severe Covid-19 by 89%, outdoing the results seen with Merck’s product.

While a review of both treatments is ongoing in the United States, a panel of expert advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) narrowly voted on December 1 to recommend the agency authorize Merck’s antiviral pill.

In the European Union, Merck’s treatment is still under review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). However, faced with rising Covid-19 cases, on November 19 the regulator issued advice on using the pill for adults ahead of providing any wider recommendation.

On the same day EMA said it started review of Pfizer’s Paxlovid.

As interest in the pills grows, both companies are increasing manufacturing efforts. Pfizer now expects to produce 80 million treatment courses, up from a previous forecast of 50 million, while Merck announced on Monday a deal with Thermo Fisher to produce its pill in Canada, where the company signed a supply deal for up to 1 million courses.

Canada also signed a deal with Pfizer for 1 million doses of its treatment. The company submitted the application seeking Health Canada’s approval of the drug candidate on December 1. [Reuters]