Pfizer Agrees to Allow Other Companies to Make Their COVID-19 Pills

Pharmaceutical maker Pfizer has signed an agreement with a United Nations-backed group to allow other manufacturers to make experimental COVID-19 pills, a move that could make the treatment available to more than half of the world’s population.

The move follows a similar decision from Merck, which has also developed pills to treat people with COVID-19.

In a statement released Tuesday, Pfizer said it will license its antiviral pills to the Geneva Medicines Patent Pool, allowing generic drug companies to produce medicated pills for use in 95 countries, about 53% of the world’s population. …

The deal excludes some major countries that have been hit by devastating COVID-19 outbreaks. For example, although a Brazilian pharmaceutical company could obtain a license to manufacture tablets for export to other countries, the drug could not be generically produced for use in Brazil.

However, health officials said the fact that the deal was struck even before the Pfizer pill was allowed elsewhere could help bring an end to the pandemic more quickly.

“It is very important that we can provide access to an effective drug that has just been developed for more than 4 billion people,” said Esteban Burrone, head of policy at the Medicines Patent Pool.

He predicted that other drug makers would be able to start producing pills within a few months, but admitted that the agreement would not be to everyone’s liking.

“We are trying to find a very delicate balance between interests [company], the sustainability required by generic manufacturers and, most importantly, the public health needs in low- and middle-income countries, ”Berrone said.

Under the terms of the agreement, Pfizer will not receive royalties for sales in low-income countries and will waive license payments for sales in all countries covered by the agreement, while COVID-19 remains a public health emergency.

Earlier this month, Pfizer said its pill reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by nearly 90% in people with mild to moderate coronavirus infection. Independent experts have recommended early termination of the company’s study given its promising results.

Pfizer said it will ask the FDA and other regulatory agencies to approve the pills as soon as possible.

Since the pandemic hit last year, researchers around the world have been rushing to develop COVID-19 pills that can be taken at home to relieve symptoms, speed up recovery, and keep people from hospitalization. Currently, most drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 must be administered intravenously or by injection.

The UK approved Merck’s COVID-19 pills earlier this month, and they are pending approval in other countries. As part of a similar deal with the Medicines Patent Pool announced in October, Merck agreed to let other drug manufacturers make its COVID-19 pill, molnupiravir, available in 105 poorer countries.

Doctors Without Borders said they were “disappointed” that the deal with Pfizer does not make the drug available globally, noting that the agreement announced Tuesday also excludes countries such as China, Argentina and Thailand.

“By now, the world knows that access to COVID-19 medical tools must be guaranteed for everyone, everywhere if we truly want to control this pandemic,” said Yuanqiong Hu, Senior Legal Policy Advisor at Médecins Sans Frontières.

Pfizer and Merck’s decision to share their COVID-19 drug patents stands in stark contrast to the refusal by Pfizer and other vaccine manufacturers to release their COVID-19 vaccine prescriptions for wider production. A center set up by the World Health Organization in South Africa to share recipes and RNA-mediated vaccine technologies has not prompted any pharmaceutical company to join.

Less than 1% of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots went to poorer countries.

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