Pfizer agrees to let other companies make their own COVID-19 pills

(London) — Drugmaker Pfizer has signed a deal 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 the world’s population.

In a statement on Tuesday, Pfizer said it would grant a license to the antiviral pills to the Geneva-based Medicines Patent Group, which would allow generic drug companies to produce the pill for use in 95 countries, which make up about 53% of the world’s population. .

The agreement excludes some large countries that have suffered from the devastating outbreak of the Corona virus. For example, while a Brazilian pharmaceutical company can obtain a license to manufacture birth control pills for export to other countries, the drug cannot generally be manufactured for use in Brazil.
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However, health officials said the fact that the deal was struck even before Pfizer’s pills were approved anywhere, could help end the epidemic faster.

“It is very important that we will be able to provide access to a drug that appears to be effective and has just been developed, to more than 4 billion people,” said Esteban Boroni, head of policy at the Medicines Patent Group.

He estimated that other drug companies would be able to start producing the pill within months, but acknowledged that the agreement would not satisfy everyone.

“We try to strike a very delicate balance between the interests of [company]sustainability demanded by sexual producers, and most importantly, the public health needs of low- and middle-income countries.”

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

Earlier this month, Pfizer said its pills reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by about 90% in people with mild to moderate infection with the coronavirus. Independent experts recommended stopping the study of the company based on its promising results.

Pfizer said it will ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulators to allow birth control pills to be taken as soon as possible.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic last year, researchers around the world have raced to develop a pill for COVID-19 that can be taken at home easily to relieve symptoms, speed recovery and keep people out of the hospital. Currently, most COVID-19 treatments must be given intravenously or by injection.

Britain allowed Merck’s COVID-19 pill earlier this month, and it is awaiting approval elsewhere. In a similar deal with a drug patent pool announced in October, Merck agreed to allow other drug companies to produce its COVID-19 pill, molnupiravir, in 105 poor countries.

Doctors Without Borders said it was “disappointing” that the Pfizer deal did not make the drug available to the entire world, noting that the agreement announced on Tuesday also excludes countries including China, Argentina and Thailand.

“The world now knows that access to COVID-19 medical tools must be guaranteed to everyone, everywhere, if we really want to get this epidemic under control,” said Yuanqiong Hu, MSF’s senior legal policy advisor.

Pfizer and Merck’s decisions about sharing patents for their COVID-19 drugs stand in stark contrast to Pfizer and other vaccine makers’ refusal to release their vaccine prescriptions for broader production. The center set up by the World Health Organization in South Africa with the goal of sharing mRNA vaccine recipes and techniques has not tempted any drug to join.

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

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