News outlets say the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is planning to spend $5 billion to purchase Pfizer’s new experimental antiviral pill designed to treat COVID-19, enough to cover 10 million courses of treatment.
The revelation comes a day after the U.S. drugmaker announced it had signed a deal with Geneva-based Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed public health group, to authorize generic drugmakers to produce its experimental COVID-19 pill for 95 countries.
The deal will make the pill available for low- and middle-income countries comprising about 53% of the world’s population.
Pfizer says its new pill, called Paxlovid, reduces the risks of hospitalization and death by nearly 90% in people with mild to moderate coronavirus cases. Independent experts recommended ending Pfizer’s study because of its encouraging results.
Tuesday’s agreement between Pfizer and the Medicines Patent Pool coincided with Pfizer’s application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize use of the drug on an emergency basis.
“It’s quite significant 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 the Medicines Patent Pool’s Esteban Burrone.
Yuanqiong Hu, a senior legal policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, said the organization is disappointed the agreement does not make the pill available to all countries.
“The world knows by now that access to COVID-19 medical tools needs to be guaranteed for everyone, everywhere, if we really want to control this pandemic,” she said.
Pfizer will not receive payments on sales in low-income countries, where fewer than 1% of its COVID-19 vaccine doses have been provided. It also will waive royalties on sales in all countries covered by the deal while COVID-19 remains a public health emergency.
The Medicines Patent Pool announced in October that another U.S. drugmaker, Merck, agreed to allow other companies to make its COVID-19 pill available in 105 poorer countries.
Merck says its antiviral pill reduces the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 by half when administered soon after the appearance of the first symptoms.
The Biden administration has pledged to spend about $2.2 billion to purchase about 3.1 million doses of Merck’s pill once it has been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration. An FDA advisory panel will meet on November 30 to discuss Merck’s COVID-19 pill. British drug regulators granted authorization for Merck’s pill earlier this month.
Despite decisions by Pfizer and Merck to share their COVID-19 drug patents, Pfizer and other vaccine-makers have refused to release their vaccine formulas for broader production.
Some information in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.