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Photo: Christopher Occhicone/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Merck said Wednesday it granted the Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed nonprofit, a royalty-free license for molnupiravir, an oral antiviral COVID-19 pill that it developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

Why it matters: The license means generic-drug companies in 105 low- and middle-income countries will be allowed to produce the experimental drug after it gains regulatory approval, which would greatly expand the availability of the medication to nations that have so far lacked access to coronavirus vaccines.

  • It comes after Merck earlier this month released data from clinical trials showing that the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by around 50%.

What they're saying: “The interim results for molnupiravir are compelling and we see this oral treatment candidate as a potentially important tool to help address the current health crisis," said Charles Gore, executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool.

The big picture: Antiviral COVID-19 medications designed to prevent or treat COVID-19 will be a key tool to combat the pandemic, since not all people will get vaccinated and because it will take potentially years to vaccinate people in developing countries.

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said earlier this month that it will meet on Nov. 30th to review Merck's emergency use authorization for molnupiravir.

Go deeper: FDA panel endorses Pfizer vaccines for 5-to-11-year-olds

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include that Merck developed molnupiravir with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

Go deeper

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Updated Nov 26, 2021 - Health

COVID vaccines of the future might not be shots

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As vaccine makers pursue the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines, some are working to develop products that wouldn't require a shot.

Why it matters: Delivering a vaccine through a pill or a nasal spray could make them much easier to administer, especially in places where distribution is challenging — or even for people who just don't like needles.

2 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.

7 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.