Pfizer has announced it is to permit a UN-backed not-for profit organisation to make and distribute a new Covid treatment pill in 95 low and middle-income countries.
Under the agreement, Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) will be able to work on production of the new Covid treatment pill, Paxlovid, without the company collecting any royalties from this as long as the World Health Organisation regards the disease as a global health emergency.
Clinical trials for the treatment have indicated it reduces the chances of high-risk patients contracting the virus dying or being hospitalised by 89 per cent, if given within three days of the onset of symptoms.
The agreement will provide easier access to this treatment for 53 per cent of the world’s population. Most of the 95 countries are in Africa or Asia, but some countries that have had very large outbreaks are excluded, including Russia, Brazil and China.
Director of the MPP Charles Gore remarked: “This oral drug is particularly well-suited for low- and middle-income countries and could play a critical role in saving lives”.
Chief executive of Pfizer Albert Bourla commented: “We must work to ensure that all people – regardless of where they live or their circumstances – have access to these breakthroughs, and we are pleased to be able to work with MPP to further our commitment to equity.”
The global pharmaceuticals sector has previously come under fire for not doing more to make treatments for the virus more widely available, particularly when it comes to requests to lift patents in vaccines to make possible their manufacture in more countries.
Indeed, the US government expressed support for this idea in May, although some other countries where vaccine-producing companies were based rejected this. Some have argued that the technical knowledge to make MRNA vaccines is in very short supply and the ingredients are also quite scarce, meaning many low-quality and ineffective vaccines might end up being made.
Evidently the same does not apply to Paxlovid, and it is notable that Pfizer is not the first major company to go down this road. Last month, Merck recorded that particular landmark when it revealed that it had reached a royalties waiver agreement with the MPP over the production of its own Covid-fighting antiviral, Molnupiravir.
This was a timely move by Merck, as it was undertaken at a time when trial results of Molnupiravir had only recently come out and national regulators were still carrying out their licensing assessments.
On November 4th, the UK became the first country to approve the drug, with health and social care secretary Sajid Javid declaring: “This antiviral will be an excellent addition to our armoury against Covid-19.”
However, as the drug can be manufactured and distributed in a range of countries far greater than
wealthy, scientifically-advanced nations like the UK and US, developing countries such as Sri Lanka have now also approved its use.
With Pfizer now following, the recognition of the global humanitarian imperatives involved may set the tone for more pharmaceutical companies, both as new treatments emerge for Covid and in future health emergencies when other life-saving medications come to be developed.