Merck secures Singapore deal for COVID antiviral pill

pharmafile | October 6, 2021 | News story | Medical Communications, Research and Development  

Merck announced on Wednesday a supply and purchase agreement that will provide Singapore with access to its experimental oral COVID-19 antiviral drug.

The pill, Molnupiravir, is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus and would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19.

Merck is currently seeking US approval for the treatment, whilst the EMA said on Tuesday that it will consider a rolling review of the drug.

Marco Cavaleri, the EMA’s head of vaccine strategy, said: “We will be considering whether to start a rolling review for this compound in the next days. And of course, the idea is to understand if the data supports such (a) rolling review.”

Singapore reported a record 3,486 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, as it deals with its biggest outbreak so far. It has vaccinated more than 80% of its people against COVID-19.

On Tuesday it was also announced that Australia has bought 300,000 courses of Molnupiravir, as Victoria logged the highest number of daily COVID-19 infections of any state in the country since the pandemic began.

Molnupiravir capsules have to be taken twice a day for five days by adult patients for a course of 10, and clinical trial data suggests that the treatment could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalised for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19.

The results from the Phase III trial, which sent Merck shares up more than 9%, were so strong that the study is being stopped early at the recommendation of outside monitors.

Interim analysis of 775 patients in Merck’s study looked at hospitalisations or deaths among people at risk for severe disease and found that 7.3% of those given Molnupiravir twice a day for five days were hospitalised and none had died by 29 days after treatment. That compared with a hospitalisation rate of 14.1% for placebo patients. There were also eight deaths in the placebo group.

South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and Malaysia have all said they are in talks to buy the potential treatment, while the Philippines is running a trial on the pill which will grant some access.

Pfizer and Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG are also racing to develop an easy-to-administer antiviral pill for COVID-19. For now, only antibody cocktails that have to be given intravenously are approved for non-hospitalised patients.

Kat Jenkins

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