Drug maker Pfizer has signed an agreement with a UN-backed group to allow other manufacturers to make its experimental COVID-19 pill, a move that could make the treatment available to more than half of the world’s population.
In a statement released today, Pfizer said it would license the antiviral pill to the Geneva-based Medicines Patent Pool, allowing generic drug companies to produce the pill for use in 95 low- and middle-income countries. They represent about 53% of the world’s population.
The deal excludes large but resourceful countries that have suffered devastating coronavirus outbreaks. For example, although a Brazilian pharmaceutical company could obtain a license to manufacture the pill for export to other countries, the drug could not be manufactured generically for use in Brazil.
Still, health officials said the fact that the deal was reached even before the Pfizer pill was licensed anywhere could help end the pandemic more quickly.
“It is quite significant that we can give access to a drug that appears to be effective and has just been developed, to more than 4,000 million people,” said Esteban Burrone, head of policy at the Medicines Patent Pool.
He estimated that other drug manufacturers could start producing the pill in a few months, but acknowledged that the deal will not be to everyone’s liking.
Generic production while the pandemic remains an emergency
“We try to strike a very delicate balance between the interests of the (company), the sustainability required by generic producers and, most importantly, the public health needs in low- and middle-income countries,” Burrone said.
Under the terms of the agreement, Pfizer will not receive royalties, license benefits, from sales in low-income countries and will waive royalties for sales in all countries covered by the agreement as long as COVID-19 remains a public health emergency.
Earlier this month, Pfizer claimed that its pill reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by nearly 90% in people with mild to moderate coronavirus infections. Independent experts recommended stopping the study of the company based on its promising results.
Pfizer said it would ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory bodies to authorize the pill as soon as possible,
Since the pandemic broke out last year, researchers around the world have been rushing to develop a pill to treat COVID-19 that can be easily taken at home to ease symptoms, speed recovery, and keep people out of the hospital. . At the moment, most COVID-19 treatments need to be given intravenously or through injections.
Britain authorized Merck’s COVID-19 pill earlier this month, and it is pending approval elsewhere, such as the European Union. In a similar agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool announced in October, Merck agreed to allow other drug makers to make its COVID-19 pill, molnupiravir, available in 105 poorer countries.
Doctors Without Borders was “disheartened” by the fact that the Pfizer agreement does not make the drug available to everyone, noting that the agreement announced Tuesday also excludes countries such as China, Argentina and Thailand.
“The world knows by now that access to COVID-19 medical tools must be guaranteed for everyone, everywhere, if we really want to control this pandemic,” said Yuanqiong Hu, Senior Legal Policy Adviser at Doctors Without Borders. The NGO has been asking for months, together with other organizations and countries, to release patents for all treatments.
The decision by Pfizer and Merck to share patents for their COVID-19 drugs stands in contrast to the refusal by Pfizer and other vaccine manufacturers to disclose their vaccine prescriptions for wider production. A center set up by the World Health Organization in South Africa to share recipes and technologies for messenger RNA vaccines has not attracted any pharmaceutical companies.
Less than 1% of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines have gone to the poorest countries.
Pfizer shares were shyly up about three hours after the release of the patent statement.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.