Merck Signs Pact to Expand Access to Promising Covid Pill
(Bloomberg) -- Merck & Co. reached an agreement aimed at widening global access to its promising Covid pill, a pact health advocates hope will spur other pharmaceutical companies to follow.
The accord with the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool will help make the antiviral therapy available in more than 100 low- and middle-income nations if it gains approval, allowing generic-drug companies to apply for licenses to make the experimental drug, according to a statement Wednesday.
The organization’s first agreement to provide access to a Covid technology follows concerns that lower-income nations struggling to get access to vaccines will be left behind once again when it comes to Covid drugs. Merck and its partners won’t receive royalties as long as Covid is classified as a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization.
“We went out and said, ‘look, we do public health licensing, we have a lot of expertise in doing this, and we’d like industry to come to us so we can discuss the possibility of licensing,’” Gore said in an interview. “Frankly, it’s a bit disappointing they didn’t really. It’s only more recently that it’s started to happen.”
The pill is a potential boon to poorer countries because of its low production cost and ease of use. The U.S. drugmaker has taken steps to ensure more countries can get it, signing licensing agreements with Indian generic manufacturers earlier this year. Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP have sought U.S. emergency use authorization, and the treatment is set for U.S. Food and Drug Administration committee review next month.
Gore said his group is also in talks with Pfizer Inc., which began late-stage trials of an oral treatment this summer.
Regulatory hurdles and other challenges need to be resolved before companies can make generic versions, and production potential won’t be realized without incentives and guarantees, Trevor Mundel, president of global health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said last week. The Gates organization is committing as much as $120 million to help generic manufacturers.
Health advocates have also worried that some hard-hit, middle-income countries could get left out of licensing agreements. The campaign is seen as crucial with many lower-income countries lacking access to vaccines. Moderna Inc. and others have faced months of pressure to get their Covid shots to more countries after wealthy governments snapped up early supplies.
“One of the sad things is that industry has done such a great job of coming up with vaccines and now treatments that are really great, and all the good will that has generated has been lost by doing bad access,” Gore said. “This is absolutely critical for them to go OK, we need to do better on this.”
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