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Merck allows generic drugmakers to produce COVID-19 pill for struggling countries

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Merck allows generic drugmakers to produce COVID-19 pill for struggling countries
Medical personnel work on a COVID-19 patient. Under the patent agreement announced Thursday, Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics will allow generic manufacturers to produce the raw ingredients for molnupiravirand or the finished drug itself. File Photo by Robert Ghement/EPA-EFE

Jan. 20 (UPI) -- More than two dozen generic drugmakers have an agreement to produce an antiviral COVID-19 pill by Merck and supply it to more than 100 developing countries to help them fight the pandemic, a United Nations-backed organization announced Thursday.

The Medicines Patent Pool, an international group that works to lower the drug costs through license agreements, said it signed pacts with 27 generic drugmakers to make Merck's molnupiravir.

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Under the patent agreement, Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics will allow generic manufacturers to produce the raw ingredients for molnupiravir and the finished drug itself.

The generic drugmakers involved in the deal operate in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Jordan, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea and Vietnam.

Last month, federal regulators gave molnupiravir emergency use authorization, meaning it can now be distributed in the United States to treat COVID-19. Photo courtesy Merck

"We are encouraged by the large number of new and existing partners that have moved quickly to secure a sublicence for molnupiravir," MPP Executive Director Charles Gore said in a statement.

"This is a critical step toward ensuring global access to an urgently needed COVID-19 treatment and we are confident that, as manufacturers are working closely with regulatory authorities, the anticipated treatments will be rapidly available in [low and middle-income countries]."

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Merck executive policy director Paul Schaper said the agreement will allow molnupiravir to reach a wider population and make it affordable in the places it's most needed.

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"We are pleased to see this vision come to life, with strong geographic diversity in MPP's selected generic manufacturing sublicensees," Schaper said in a statement.

Last month, federal regulators gave molnupiravir emergency use authorization, meaning it can now be distributed in the United States to treat COVID-19. Regulators also granted authorization to Paxlovid, which is a similar COVID-19 antiviral treatment from Pfizer.

The tablets are the first two COVID-19 treatment drugs to receive emergency approval in the United States.

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Merck announced in October that it would make the drug immediately available to generic drugmakers, and that it would receive no royalties for it. Pfizer also made a similar announcement.

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