In a statement, the Medicines Patent Pool stated that it had signed a voluntary licensing arrangement for molnupiravir between Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
The agreement allows the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) to issue additional licenses to qualified companies that have been approved to manufacture the drug. The agreement will not allow either drug manufacturer to receive royalties until COVID-19 is declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization. Molnupiravir was the first drug to be shown to cure the disease.
Charles Gore, executive director of Medicines Patent Pool, stated that the initial results for molnupiravir had been "compelling" in his opinion and that he hoped the first voluntary licensing agreement for COVID-19 treatment would inspire others.
Despite repeated requests by governments and health officials, there has been no similar agreement between vaccine manufacturers. The WHO South Africa hub was established to share technology and messenger RNA vaccine recipes. No pharmaceutical has signed up.
Merck requested that its pill be licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency. Decisions could be made within weeks.
A home-based antiviral pill could be a breakthrough in helping people reduce symptoms and speed up recovery. This could help to ease the burden on hospitals and curb outbreaks in countries with poor health care systems.
It would also support a dual-pronged approach to the pandemic: prevention and treatment, primarily via vaccinations.
Doctors Without Borders, a charity that supports the poor, welcomed the Merck agreement to share its COVID-19 pills. However, it said it wasn't enough.
Yuanqiong Hu (a senior legal and policy advisor at Doctors Without Borders), said that the license "excludes key upper-middle income countries like Brazil or China from its territory, which have strong, established capacity for producing and supplying antiviral medications." He called it "disappointing."