US to buy 1.4M more Merck COVID antiviral pills for $1B

The U.S. government has agreed to purchase 1.4 million more courses of molnupiravir, Merck's experimental COVID-19 antiviral drug, for roughly $1 billion, the drugmaker said Nov. 9. 

The deal is contingent on molnupiravir receiving emergency use authorization or full approval from the FDA. The agency is set to meet Nov. 30 to discuss authorizing the drug, which Merck developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. 

The U.S. has now committed to purchase a total of 3.1 million courses of the antiviral for about $2.2 billion. It also has the ability under an existing contract to purchase more than 2 million additional doses. 

Merck expects to produce 10 million courses of treatment by the end of this year and at least 20 million in 2022. 

On Oct. 1, Merck announced that molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 50 percent in a phase 3 trial. The results, based on data from 775 clinical trial participants, showed that no COVID-19 deaths were reported in those who received the drug, compared with eight deaths in the placebo group.

The drugmaker applied for emergency use authorization from the FDA for molnupiravir Oct. 11, asking for the drug to be authorized to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults at risk of progressing to severe disease. 

On Oct. 27, Merck signed a licensing deal that allows other drugmakers to manufacture molnupiravir, a move that will create cheaper access to the drug in low-income nations. The deal will allow companies in 105 countries, most of which are in Africa and Asia, to manufacture the pill. 


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