U.S. drug company Merck strikes deal with nonprofit to share COVID pill formula with poorer nations

Man walks past Merck plant.
Man walks past Merck plant. Marko Georgiev/Getty Images

U.S. drug company Merck has granted U.N.-backed nonprofit Medicines Patent Pool a royalty-free license for its experimental new COVID-19 drug, allowing Merck's treatment to be "manufactured and sold cheaply" in the world's poorest nations, reports The New York Times.

The deal — which is set-up in hopes of expanding the drug's availability, widening its manufacturing base, and potentially pushing down its price, per The Washington Post — permits companies in 105 countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, to sublicense the formula for the "promising" antiviral pill and begin making it for their own populations, per the Times. Earlier in October, Merck reported that the "easy-to-take pill" is "shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death in some cases," writes the Post.

Some treatment-access advocates have welcomed the new deal, which will hopefully right some of the lopsided COVID treatment access the world is seeing now.

"The Merck license is a very good and meaningful protection for people living in countries where more than half of the world's population lives," James Love, head of Knowledge Ecology International, told the Times. "It will make a difference."

Added Charles Gore, director of nonprofit Medicines Patent Pool: "This is hopefully going to make things a lot easier in terms of keeping people out of hospital and stopping people dying in low- and middle-income countries," he said.

What's more, so long as the WHO classifies COVID-19 as a public health emergency, neither Merck nor its partners — Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Emory University — will receive royalties from drug sales under the agreement, per the Post.

Added Director of Public Citizen and MPP boardmember Peter Maybarduk: "This license will not solve everything, but it is a starting point and an example."

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