Africa: Pharmaceutical company agrees to share Covid Pill 19 formula with poor countries


A US pharmaceutical company has granted a United Nations-backed nonprofit a royalty-free license for a promising Covid-19 pill that would allow the drug to be cheaply produced and sold in the poorest countries, particularly Africa and Asia. .

This month, it was reported that molnupiravir, developed by Merck, halved hospitalization and death rates in high-risk patients with Covid-19 in a large clinical trial.

In a statement posted on the Medical Patent Pool (MPP) website Wednesday, Merck said it had signed an agreement for affordable global access to molnupiravir.

"This agreement will help create broad access to molnupiravir use in 105 low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), once approved," the company said in part. Under the agreement, companies from 105 countries are allowed to license drug formulations.

MPP works to make medical care and technology available worldwide. Rich countries, including the United States, are rushing to negotiate deals to buy drugs and tie up most bids before regulatory approval, raising fears that poorer countries will be denied access to drugs, as is the case with vaccines.

The drug has been submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval and is being reviewed by the European Medicines Agency. If approved, it would be the first oral treatment for Covid-19.

“One of the main features of the licensing agreement is the transfer of technology and the waiver of any exclusivity in test data, which is required to obtain marketing authorization in countries that provide originality of the original data. "Because molnupiravir is a simple molecule, most generic drug companies are expected to be able to manufacture it without technology transfer, and some are already doing so," Merck and MPP said in a joint statement.

"It will be left unpaid as long as the World Health Organization claims the pandemic is a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). After that there will be payments of 5 percent for the public sector and 10 percent for the private sector," the statement added.

Consultant pathology dr. Ahmed Kalebi commented on Merck's move: "This is a welcome move, but clearly so much needs to be done before such a move can benefit poor countries."

A year ago India and South Africa called for the removal of trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) to facilitate on-site treatment creation and strengthen global vaccination campaigns. However, rich countries including the US, Canada and the UK have refused to give up their rights to a Covid-19 vaccine.

The urgency and importance of giving up certain intellectual property rights after the pandemic has been highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO), health experts, civil society, trade unions, former world leaders and other prominent figures and groups, among others.

Exceptions, if adopted by the General Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO), could help countries around the world break the legal barriers that prevent them from making vaccines and self-treatments for Covid-19.

"The job of TRIPS is for emergencies. Covid-19 is serious and unprecedented. So if we can't use it now, when or why do we have it at all as a precautionary measure," said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Gebreyesus.

"Some governments say TRIPS won't help, but the answer is why don't you try it first," added Dr. Tedros added that when he launched a global vaccination strategy against Covid-19 in mid-2022, Guterres urged countries to reconsider their position and support the refusal to ensure better access to vaccines, medicines and diagnostics.

“WHO has shown leadership but lacks the power to enforce exceptions. It is the power of producers and countries that can make vaccines. I understand that it [access to Covid-19 vaccines and drugs], which requires extraordinary rules and regulations. This is not business as usual," Guterres said while outlining an ambitious plan to vaccinate 40% of the world's population by the end of December 2021 and 70% of the world's population against Covid-19 by mid-2022.

 The story by Elizabeth Merab

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