Pfizer announces deal to allow generic versions of its Covid pill for the world’s poor

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The American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced on Tuesday an agreement to make its future Covid-19 antiviral pill available at a lower cost in the less wealthy countries of the world.

Pfizer will sublicense the production of its promising pill Paxlovid to generic drug manufacturers for supply in 95 low- and middle-income countries covering about 53 percent of the world’s population.

Under the deal with the global Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), Pfizer – which also produces one of the most widely used Covid vaccines with German laboratory BioNTech – will not receive royalties from generic manufacturers, which will make the treatment cheaper.

The agreement is subject to the successful completion of ongoing trials and regulatory approval of the oral antiviral drug.

The medicine Pfizer must be taken with the anti-HIV medicine ritonavir.

Interim data from ongoing trials demonstrated an 89% reduction in the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19 compared to placebo, in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with Covid-19 within three days following the onset of symptoms, Pfizer said.

Similar results were seen within five days of onset of symptoms, he added.

The Geneva-based MPP is a United Nations-backed international organization that works to facilitate drug development for low- and middle-income countries.

If approved, the pill could be on the market in “a few months,” MPP policy chief Esteban Burrone told AFP.

Pfizer also said on Tuesday it was seeking an Emergency Use Authorization, or EUA, in the United States for the Covid pill.

Mixing HIV drugs

Pfizer will waive royalties on sales in all countries covered by the agreement while Covid-19 remains classified as a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization.

Last month, the WHO maintained the highest level of alert on the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.

Paxlovid, or PF-07321332, is an experimental antiviral therapy designed to block the activity of the SARS-CoV-2-3CL protease – an enzyme that the coronavirus needs to replicate.

Taking it with a low dose of ritonavir helps slow the breakdown of PF-07321332. It therefore remains active in the body longer at a high concentration, to help fight the virus.

The pill could potentially help patients avoid serious illness, which can lead to hospitalization and death, Pfizer said.

“We believe that oral antiviral treatments can play a vital role in reducing the severity of Covid-19 infections, reducing the strain on our health systems and saving lives,” said the president and chief executive officer from Pfizer, Albert Bourla.

While a plethora of vaccines have been rolled out during the pandemic, the hunt for treatments for those who have already caught the disease has not been so successful.

Agreement follows agreement with Merck

The MPP was founded by Unitaid, which works on innovations to prevent, diagnose and treat major diseases in the poorest countries.

“During a pandemic, saving time means saving lives. This agreement could help us reach more people faster once the drug is approved,” said Philippe Duneton, executive director of Unitaid.

Potential sublicensees have until December 6 to register an expression of interest.

The announcement comes after the MPP signed a similar voluntary licensing agreement with U.S. rivals Pfizer Merck & Co last month for its experimental oral antiviral drug molnupiravir.

Subject to regulatory approval, the agreement will help create widespread access to molnupiravir in 105 low- and middle-income countries.

Pills are easier to manufacture than vaccines, do not require a cold chain for delivery, and can be self-administered by the patient.

In terms of relieving health systems by preventing hospitalizations, “it’s a game-changer,” Burrone said.

He said the price of the Pfizer pill had not yet been set, but said “in a competitive environment … prices tend to drop” to a low level.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has meanwhile suggested that it could cost around $ 700 per course of treatment, in line with molnupiravir.

The medical charity said it was discouraged by the deal, saying restrictive voluntary licenses could not replace ensuring global access to Covid tools to bring the pandemic under control.

(AFP)

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