Merck & Co to allow generic manufacture of Covid-19 pill


Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co has agreed to share its license for its experimental Covid-19 drug with the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), allowing companies to manufacture generic versions for easier worldwide distribution.

Merck said on Wednesday that the royalty-free licence to make generic versions of molnupiravir would apply to 105 low- and middle-income countries.

The move could make the drug, an easily-taken pill shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death in some cases, available to millions across the globe.

The US Food and Drug Administration is considering emergency use authorisation of the medicine, which was shown in a clinical trial to halve the risk of serious disease and death when given early for Covid-19.

“This is the first transparent, public health-driven voluntary licence for a Covid-19 medical technology,” Merck and MPP said in a joint statement.

Companies will be able to apply for a sub-licence from MPP and the licence, which also includes technology transfer, will remain royalty-free so long as the World Health Organization classifies the pandemic as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”, the statement said.

Merck earlier this year signed bilateral licensing deals with eight Indian generic drugmakers, including Aurobindo Pharma, Cipla, Dr Reddy’s Labs, Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Hetero Labs, Sun Pharmaceuticals and Torrent Pharmaceuticals.

The agreement with MPP broadens the manufacturing base beyond those companies. MPP told Reuters recently that it had 24 companies that had expressed interest in making the drug.

“We all along knew that we would want to diversify the geographic footprint of our generic partners, so that we did not only have generic suppliers in India, but in other geographies as well,” Paul Schaper, Merck’s executive director of global public policy, said in an interview.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said last week that it will spend up to US$120 million to kick-start development of generic versions of molnupiravir to help ensure that lower-income countries have equal access to the drug. (Source: CNA)