Merck announced Wednesday that it has reached an approximately $1.2 billion deal to supply the U.S. government 1.7 million doses of molnupiravir, an oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19, should the experimental drug receive authorization or approval from U.S. regulators.
“Merck is pleased to collaborate with the U.S. government on this new agreement that will provide Americans with COVID-19 access to molnupiravir – an investigational oral therapy being studied for outpatient use early in the course of disease – if it is authorized or approved,” Rob Davis, Merck's president, said in a statement. “In addition to this agreement with the U.S. government, we are actively engaged in numerous efforts to make molnupiravir available globally to fulfill Merck’s commitment to widespread access.”
The oral antiviral, which can be given early on in the illness, aims to halt COVID-19 from progressing. The drug is currently being evaluated in a Phase 3 clinical trial "for the treatment of non-hospitalized patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and at least one risk factor associated with poor disease outcomes," the company said.
Results of the trial are expected in the fall of 2021, per the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Merck said they expect to file for Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the second half of 2021 at the earliest, if the trial is successful.
The company expects to have more than 10 million courses of the drug available by the end of the year.
A number of companies are developing an oral treatment for COVID-19, including drugmaker Pfizer, which developed one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer's CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC in April that the pill could be available by the end of the year.
Merck was one of the companies developing COVID-19 vaccine candidates, but discontinued those efforts in January after they did not generate strong enough immune responses compared "to those seen following natural infection and those reported for other SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccines."