Covid-19 roundup: Experts worry molnupiravir demand will leave poor countries behind as Merck says it will double production
As Merck’s highly anticipated Covid-19 antiviral pill awaits emergency use authorization from the FDA, countries are lining up for supply contracts, which likely could leave poorer nations behind, in a rollout that may be similar to the vaccines.
About 10 countries have signed on to use the antiviral, including several Asian-Pacifica countries such as Thailand, India, Australia, South Korea, and Malaysia. In the US, Merck agreed to supply 1.7 million doses earlier this year for about about $1.2 billion.
The low production cost and ease of use could make the drug one of the most valuable tools for lower-income countries to battle the virus.
And while Merck has already signed a deal with Indian generic manufacturers to produce doses for those countries, some experts worry that massive deals already signed by countries like the US could hinder the rollout. India’s Everest Organics has already started making active pharmaceutical ingredients for its own generic version of the drug, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Concerns about an effective rollout come on the heels of issues with the Covax program from Gavi, the vaccine alliance. Despite wealthy countries pledging millions of doses for countries in need, some governments balked at handing over the jabs while infection rates in their own countries peaked. India only just resumed vaccine exports after a massive spike in infections saw a delay by nearly eight months.
Merck says it will double its production of molnupiravir
As demand for the first antiviral pill to treat Covid-19 mounts, Merck has announced it will try to double manufacturing capacity while governments acquire the drug that is said to have cut hospitalizations from Covid in half, according to the Financial Times.
Merck said it aimed to increase its own production from 10 million courses of the drug in 2021 to at least 20 million in 2022.
Experts have warned that the drug should not be used as a substitute for the Covid-19 vaccine, and the company said that it would likely be available to people who are at high risk for progressing toward severe infection.
CureVac pulls the plug on first vaccine in favor of focusing on next-gen Covid vaccine with GSK
CureVac on Tuesday said it’s focusing all of its efforts on the development of second-generation mRNA vaccine candidates in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline, and has decided to withdraw its first-generation vaccine candidate, CVnCoV, from the current approval process with the European Medicines Agency.
“In view of a recent EMA communication, CureVac estimates that the earliest potential approval of CVnCoV would come in the second quarter of 2022. By this time, the companies expect the candidates from the second-generation vaccine program to have progressed to late-stage clinical development,” the company said in explaining its decision.