Pfizer Deal Lets Outside Companies Make Drugmaker’s COVID-19 Pill

The Pfizer logo is seen at the Pfizer Inc. headquarters in New York City on Dec. 9, 2020. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)
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By Zachary Stieber

Pfizer and a United Nations-backed group announced Monday that the drugmaker would let outside companies make its COVID-19 pill.

“Pfizer remains committed to bringing forth scientific breakthroughs to help end this pandemic for all people. We believe oral antiviral treatments can play a vital role in reducing the severity of COVID-19 infections, decreasing the strain on our healthcare systems, and saving lives,” Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer, said in a statement.

“We must work to ensure that all people—regardless of where they live or their circumstances—have access to these breakthroughs, and we are pleased to be able to work with MPP to further our commitment to equity,” he added, referring to the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool.

Charles Gore, executive director of the MPP, said the license is important because the pill, if authorized or approved, “is particularly well-suited for low- and middle-income countries and could play a critical role in saving lives, contributing to global efforts to fight the current pandemic.”

The pill has not yet received clearance in any countries but Pfizer plans to seek emergency use authorization from U.S. drug regulators soon, after a study indicated it was highly effective in reducing the risk of hospitalization or death when administered within three days of symptomatic COVID-19.

The deal lets manufacturers in certain countries produce the pill, provided they don’t try to sell it in a certain set of other nations. It is royalty-free until the World Health Organization declares the end of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern regarding COVID-19.

The pact between Pfizer and the pool comes several weeks after Merck agreed to a similar contract. Pfizer excluded 17 countries that were part of Merck’s agreement but added seven others, for a total of 95. Both deals target countries with lower per capita incomes, according to an analysis by Knowledge Ecology International, though Pfizer did include some upper-middle-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The new agreement “will allow the rapid scale up of manufacturing of what appears to be an effective and safe treatment for COVID-19,” James Love, director of the group, said in a statement.

“Pfizer deserves credit for engaging with the MPP and agreeing to transparency, open and procompetitive licensing in the middle of a pandemic for this product,” he added.

Yuanqiong Hu, a senior legal policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement that it had hoped Pfizer would let additional countries manufacture the pill, including China, Argentina, and Thailand.

“The world knows by now that access to COVID-19 medical tools needs to be guaranteed for everyone, everywhere, if we really want to control this pandemic,” Hu said.

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