Nov 9, 2021 - Health

U.S. to buy $1 billion worth of Merck's antiviral COVID pill

Merck's logo outside of its headquarters in Kenilworth, New Jersey.

Photo: Christopher Occhicone/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration will buy 1.4 million additional courses of a pill developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to prevent or treat COVID-19, a purchase worth around $1 billion, the companies announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: The U.S. has now committed to acquiring about 3.1 million courses of molnupiravir for $2.2 billion after the drug receives an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

What they're saying: “We’re honored that the U.S. government has chosen to purchase more than 3 million courses of molnupiravir, our promising oral antiviral, so that molnupiravir, if authorized, will be among the vaccines and medicines available to fight COVID-19 as part of our collective efforts to bring this pandemic to an end," said Frank Clyburn, Merck's president of human health.

The big picture: The United Kingdom became the first country to approve the drug last week.

  • The FDA is currently reviewing Merck and Ridgeback's emergency use authorization application for the drug.
  • Merck said last month that molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by around 50% in a clinical trial.
  • Antiviral medications to prevent COVID-19 like molnupiravir will be key to preventing deaths and treating severe symptomatic cases of the disease since not all people will agree to get vaccinated.

Go deeper: Pfizer says COVID pill cuts risk of death or hospitalization by 89%

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