Pfizer to supply 4 million Covid antivirals to poorest countries through UNICEF

Paxlovid, Pfizer’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pill, is manufactured in Ascoli, Italy in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on November 16, 2021.

Pfizer | Handout | via Reuters

Pfizer will supply up to 4 million courses of its oral Covid-19 treatment to dozens of poorer countries under an agreement with the United Nations Children’s Fund, the company announced Tuesday.

Pfizer plans to begin shipping Paxlovid antiviral tablets to UNICEF next month and will continue to do so through the end of the year, the company said. According to Pfizer, low-income countries will receive the pills at a non-commercial price, while upper-middle-income countries will pay more under a tiered pricing system.

The company did not disclose the financial terms of the agreement at the request of CNBC.

Pfizer has licensed Paxlovid through the Medicines Patent Pool, a UN-backed public health organization, which will allow other companies to produce a generic low-cost version of the Covid treatment to increase supply in low-income countries around the world. Too far 35 companies in 12 countries Latin America, the Middle East, and South and East Asia have signed agreements for the production of either raw materials or finished products.

The agreement with UNICEF will allow Paxlovid to be supplied to the same 95 low- and middle-income countries covered by the license agreement. The goal is to provide short-term access to oral antiviral treatment, Pfizer said, as companies ramp up production of generic drugs.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Paxlovid on an emergency basis in December for people aged 12 and over. Paxlovid was 89% effective in preventing hospitalization in individuals at high risk of severe Covid in clinical trials.

Pfizer expects Paxlovid sales to be $22 billion in 2022 based on deals already signed or close to completion. The drugmaker has agreed to supply the US government with 20 million courses of Paxlovid by September of this year.

Paxlovid is administered as soon as possible after a diagnosis of Covid-19 is made as a course of three tablets twice a day for five days. Patients take two tablets of nirmatrelvir, developed by Pfizer, and one tablet of ritonavir, a widely used anti-HIV drug. Nirmatrelvir inhibits an enzyme essential for viral replication, while ritonavir slows down patients’ metabolism, allowing the drug to remain active in the body longer.

While Pfizer licenses Paxlovid extensively for generics, the drug maker has not done the same for its Covid vaccine. Oxfam America called on shareholders at the company’s annual meeting to support a feasibility study to transfer vaccine technology to developing countries.

The Pfizer Board of Directors urged shareholders to vote against the proposal, arguing that the technology behind the vaccine is complex and requires a high level of skill to maintain vaccine quality. Pfizer plans to deliver 2 billion doses of the vaccine to poorer countries by the end of 2022.

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