By Manas Mishra
(Reuters) – The U.S. government will buy another $1 billion worth of the COVID-19 pill made by Merck & Co Inc and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the companies said on Tuesday.
The government in June agreed to buy 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir for $1.2 billion and is now exercising options to buy 1.4 million more.
That brings the total secured courses to 3.1 million and worth $2.2 billion. Merck said the government has the right to buy 2 million more courses as part of the contract.
The drug has been closely watched since data last month showed that when given early in the illness it could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for those most at risk of developing severe COVID-19.
“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, president of Merck’s human health business.
President Joe Biden said on Friday that the United States had also secured millions of doses of Pfizer Inc’s rival antiviral drug, which was shown to cut by 89% the chance of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of severe disease.
The Pfizer negotiations were for a deal similar to the one with Merck – 1.7 million courses of the treatment upfront with an additional option for 3.3 million, a senior U.S. health official said on Tuesday, confirming a New York Times report.
Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Alfred Bourla said on Friday that the company plans to sell its treatment for around the same price for high-income countries as Merck, at roughly $700 for a course of therapy.
Merck expects to produce 10 million courses of the treatment by the end of this year, with at least 20 million set to be manufactured in 2022.
(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Leroy Leo in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by Anil D’Silva, Arun Koyyur and Sriraj Kalluvila)