Malaysia Signs Deal With Merck For Covid-19 Pill

The antiviral medicine, molnupiravir, by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics reduces the risk of hospitalisation by 50%, according to an interim analysis of a Phase Three trial on unvaccinated adults with mild to moderate Covid-19.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 7 — The Malaysian government has signed an agreement with Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) to procure 150,000 courses of an experimental oral antiviral medicine to treat Covid-19.

American pharmaceutical company MSD’s October 1 press release announced that the pill, molnupiravir, it developed with partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics halved the risk of hospitalisation from Covid-19, based on an interim analysis of a Phase Three trial among unvaccinated non-hospitalised adults with mild to moderate Covid-19.

“This decision was made as preparation for us to move into the endemic phase to live with the Covid-19 virus by adding the choice of new innovative treatments as a ‘weapon’ to fight Covid-19, besides the use of vaccines and other public health measures,” Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said in a statement today.

“However, I want to state that although the molnupiravir medicine is effective, this doesn’t mean that vaccines are no longer needed because vaccines are meant to reduce infection and prevent severe disease.

“The molnupiravir medicine cannot prevent infection. It’s only beneficial for those who are already infected. We need both methods to reduce the burden of Covid-19 disease, leading to a bigger impact on efforts to prevent and control the spread of Covid-19 infection.”

The global clinical study on molnupiravir also found that no deaths were reported in Covid-19 patients who received the medicine, compared to eight deaths in those who took a placebo.

MSD announced that it was planning to submit an application for emergency-use authorisation to the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as marketing applications to other regulatory bodies worldwide, as soon as possible based on the findings of the trial.

Molnupiravir is a medicine that requires taking several pills twice a day for five days, costing US$700 (RM2,927) per five-day course, based on the US$1.2 billion the United States government paid to order 1.7 million courses of the drug, Stat reported.

The US medical news site also reported that molnupiravir’s safety profile, based on MSD’s press release, appeared very good, as patients in the placebo arm were three times more likely to drop out from the trial due to apparent side effects compared to those who received the drug, indicating that side effects of Covid-19 were worse than molnupiravir. 

Molnupiravir works by disrupting the way the coronavirus copies RNA, its genetic material, thus preventing viral replication. Stat reported some concern that the medicine could cause birth defects.

However, top MSD virologist Daria Hazuda reportedly told a press conference last Friday that there is no evidence of the potential for mutagenicity, or the potential to cause mutations, for molnupiravir.

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