Merck signs deal with UN-backed MPP for global access to COVID-19 drug

The agreement will help create broad access for the drug use in 105 low- and middle-income countries, including India, subject to regulatory approval

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 28 October 2021
Molnupiravir is an antiviral drug. Photo: From handout photo obtained from Merck on May 26, 2021

United Nations-based Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) and United States drug maker MSD (Merck & Co Inc) October 28, 2021, announced a licensing deal that will allow pharmaceutical companies in other countries to make molnupiravir — a new medicine being tested in clinical trials for treating the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in adults.

The Geneva-based MPP is a United Nations-backed international organisation that works to facilitate the development of medicines for low- and middle-income nations.

The move is likely to ease access of COVID-19 treatment in low- and middle-income countries. The agreement will help create broad access for the drug use in 105 low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), including India, subject to regulatory approval.

Results from interim Phase III clinical trials showed that Molnupiravir, an investigational oral antiviral medicine, reduced the risk of hospitalisation in patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 by 50 per cent.

Antivirals help slow down replication of the virus in the body. 

The drug is being currently evaluated for inclusion into the World Health Organization (WHO) living guideline on COVID-19 therapeutics. It is currently pending authorisation for use from regulatory bodies.

If approved, it will be the first oral medicine to be allowed for non-hospitalised mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients.

Charles Gore, executive director, MPP, said, “The interim results for molnupiravir are compelling and we see this oral treatment candidate as a potentially important tool to help address the current health crisis. This transparent, public health-driven agreement is MPP’s first voluntary licence for a COVID-19 medical technology.”

WHO, in a statement, said:

We commend MPP for negotiating the licence from a public health perspective… it is non-exclusive and transparent. We urge the manufacturer to provide data of clinical trials to WHO as soon as possible, so that the agency can evaluate the medicine for global use.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a medical charity, welcomed the announcement but were also cautious.

“The license excludes key upper-middle-income countries like Brazil and China from its territory, where there is strong, established capacity to produce and supply antiviral medicines,” said Yuanqiong Hu, senior legal and policy advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign, in a statement. 

He added that middle-income countries excluded from the license had 30 million COVID-19 infections in the first half of 2021, 50 percent of all infections in low- and middle-income countries.

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