LONDON, England –Drugmaker Pfizer Inc. has signed a deal with a United Nations-backed initiative to allow other manufacturers to make its experimental COVID-19 pill, more than half of the world's population could make the treatment as a result of this move.
Pfizer said in a statement released Tuesday that it would grant a licence for the antiviral pill to the Geneva-based Medicines Patent Pool, allowing generic medicine companies to create the pill for use in 95 countries, accounting for nearly 53% of the global population.
The deal excludes a number of significant countries that have experienced from disastrous coronavirus outbreaks. While a Brazilian pharmaceutical company may obtain a licence to manufacture the pill for export, the medicine could not be produced generically for use in Brazil.
Nonetheless, health experts believe that the agreement was reached before Pfizer's pill was approved anywhere, which could help to speed up the end of the pandemic.
"It's huge that we'll be able to give more than 4 billion people access to a treatment that appears to be successful and was newly created," Esteban Burrone, head of policy at the Medicines Patent Pool, said.
He predicted that other drugmakers would be able to begin producing the tablet in a matter of months, but admitted that the deal would not be popular with everyone.
"We attempt to strike a very delicate balance between the (company's) interests, the sustainability requirements of generic producers, and, most significantly, the public health needs of low- and middle-income nations," Burrone explained.
Pfizer will not collect 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, according to the provisions of the deal.
Pfizer announced earlier this month that its pill reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death in persons with mild to moderate coronavirus infections by nearly 90%. Based on the study's positive results, independent experts recommended that it be halted.
Pfizer said it would approach the US Food and Drug Administration and other regulators as soon as possible to get the drug approved.
Since the pandemic erupted last year, researchers around the world have been racing to find a COVID-19 treatment pill that can be used at home to alleviate symptoms, hasten recovery, and keep people out of the hospital. Most COVID-19 therapies are currently administered intravenously or by injection.
Merck's COVID-19 tablet was approved in the United Kingdom earlier this month, and it is awaiting approval in other countries. Merck agreed to allow other drugmakers make its COVID-19 medicine, molnupiravir, available in 105 poorer nations in a similar deal with the Medicines Patent Pool announced in October.
Doctors Without Borders expressed its "disappointment" that the Pfizer arrangement does not make the medication available to the entire world, noting that the agreement announced Tuesday also excludes China, Argentina, and Thailand.
"By now, everyone realises that if we truly want to contain this pandemic, access to COVID-19 medical tools must be assured for everyone, everywhere," said Yuanqiong Hu, a senior legal policy consultant at Doctors Without Borders.
Pfizer and Merck's agreements to reveal their COVID-19 medication patents contrast sharply with Pfizer and other vaccine manufacturers' refusal to share their vaccine formulations for wider production. The World Health Organization set up a centre in South Africa to share messenger RNA vaccine formulas and technologies, but no pharmaceutical company has joined.
Fewer than 1% of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed to developing countries.
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