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Merck inks yet another $1B-plus supply deal for COVID pill, this time with Japan

November 14, 2021
Life sciences

Merck & Co.’s positive data for oral COVID-19 antiviral molnupiravir continue to pay off in a big way. Wednesday, just a day after unveiling a $1 billion sale order to the U.S., the company disclosed another major supply deal.

Japan has agreed to pay Merck and partner Ridgeback Therapeutics $1.2 billion for 1.6 million courses of the drug, or $750 per course. The deal is contingent on the antiviral winning an authorization or approval from Japan’s Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency.

The deal comes a day after Merck said the U.S. government agreed to purchase another 1.4 million courses of the drug for $1 billion. Together with an earlier purchase, the order brings the United States’ total supply purchase to 3.1 million courses at a cost of $2.2 billion.

In early October, the companies said the medicine, given at 800 mg twice daily, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by about 50% in adult patients who were not hospitalized or vaccinated. For the study, the mild-to-moderate patients experienced symptom onset within five days of randomization, and they also had at least one risk factor.

Based on that data, the drug won its first authorization from U.K. authorities last week. The U.K. government has negotiated a deal for 480,000 courses of the drug. Merck has other submissions in progress worldwide.

Even ahead of its positive phase 3 data, Merck has been building supply chain capacity for the antiviral, the company said. Merck expects to be able to make 10 million courses by the end of 2021 and 20 million in 2022. Aside from the supply agreements with the U.S., Japan and other countries, the company inked a licensing deal with the Medicines Patent Pool to boost supply globally.

Meanwhile, a rival looms in Pfizer’s Paxlovid. Last week, Pfizer reported that its oral antiviral cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in a late-stage trial. The result prompted the company to stop the study and seek emergency use authorization from the FDA.

by Eric Sagonowsky


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