Pfizer COVID pills: more than 30 companies will start producing medicines

Nearly three dozen companies around the world will soon start making generic versions of Pfizer’s coronavirus pills, the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool, which brokered the deal, said Thursday.

The Medicines Patent Pool said in a statement that agreements signed with 35 companies should help bring Pfizer’s antiviral nirmatrelvir (Paxlovoid) to more than half of the world’s population.

Generic manufacturers in a dozen countries in Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Eastern Europe will start producing either the raw materials for Pfizer’s drug or the pills themselves. Among the companies that were offered a license was one in Ukraine, which has not yet been able to confirm that it can participate.

“It will make a huge difference for the countries.” said Charles Gore, chief executive of the Medicines Patent Pool. He said the availability of Pfizer in some of the world’s poorest countries is particularly important. “They were at the end of the line for vaccines, so having that kind of treatment in the armory would be absolutely essential to prevent deaths.”

Gore estimates that some generic drug companies may be ready to submit their drugs for regulatory approval later this year, with some supplies available in 2023.

Pfizer has been found to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death in people at risk for severe COVID-19 by up to 90%; it is also believed to be effective against the omicron variant because it does not target the spike protein of the coronavirus, which hosts most of the mutations of concern.

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Many health experts welcomed the deal but noted that gaps remain. Some countries that have been hit by devastating COVID-19 outbreaks, such as Brazil, are excluded from the deal. Under the terms of the agreements, Brazilian companies can produce Pfizer tablets, but the generic will not be sold there.

Pfizer will not receive royalties from the sale of its drug by generic manufacturers as long as the coronavirus pandemic remains classified by the World Health Organization as a global health emergency.

In January, the Medicines Patent Pool announced a similar deal with Merck, when it signed agreements with more than two dozen companies licensed to manufacture its COVID pill, molnupiravir.

None of the COVID-19 vaccine companies have so far agreed to work with the group to allow other manufacturers to make their shots.

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