First the Vaccine Grab—Now a Treatment Grab?

The first oral antiviral for COVID-19 could be a pandemic “game changer,” allowing patients to be treated at home and thus freeing up hospital space. But will wealthy countries buy up supplies of molnupiravir, mimicking last year’s “vaccine grab.”
 
As Merck seeks FDA emergency use authorization for the drug—and the US and several Asia-Pacific nations have already signed deals to stock up on the drug, or are in talks to do so.
 
Not yet peer-reviewed results from a Phase 3 trial of 700 unvaccinated patients found the pill, given within 5 days of symptom onset, may cut the risk of hospitalization and death in half, compared to the placebo.
 
Promising step for equity? Merck has signed licensing deals with 8 Indian drugmakers that will allow generic versions of the drug to be produced for 109 low- and middle-income nations, Reuters reports.
 
The drug is relatively simple to produce—but Merck still holds the reins on supplying the drug and setting its price, raising big questions about how lower-income countries will access it and at what cost, CNN reports.
 
This resurfaces the question of patent waivers that would allow more countries to produce the drug.
 
Without a “public good” approach, “a kind of therapeutic nationalism” could follow, warned Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative’s Rachel Cohen.

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