Molnupiravir seen accessible as talks with MSD on track


MOLNUPIRAVIR, an oral antiviral drug clinically proven to reduce by half the risk of hospitalization or death from known variants of Covid-19, is expected to be readily available in the country once discussions with Merck (known outside the US and Canada as MSD) to have Philippine manufacturers produce it come to fruition.

While it is still under discussion, MSD Philippines President and Managing Director Dr. Beaver Tamesis said they are confident that with the partnership with RiteMed for the distribution of the game-changer drug, Molnupiravir will reach health-care facilities throughout the country faster at accessible prices.

“They have a very wide network. I’m sure they’ll be able to do what they need to do,” Tamesis said in a virtual forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) on Monday.

RiteMed, one of the companies under UnitedHealth Group, has been appointed by Faberco Life Sciences, Inc. (Faberco) as distributor of Molnupiravir in hospitals, medical institutions, and treatment sites in the country. This, once compassionate special permits (CSP) are filed with and approved by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Faberco, meanwhile, is the appointed Philippine distributor of Aurobindo Pharma Ltd., a partner manufacturer of Merck & Co., which developed the Molnupiravir capsule.

Tamesis said several Philippine drug makers have started discussions with Merck on the possibility of obtaining voluntary licensing agreements for the local production of Molnupiravir in the country.

He said it is a good thing that local companies have expressed strong interest to produce Molnupiravir.

“They have reached out to us and already we have elevated it. Definitely, this is under discussion,” Tamesis said.

He stressed that it is really Merck’s intention to have licensing agreements with many manufacturers as this is the best way to make Molnupiravir more accessible and cheaper, especially in countries like the Philippines. This, he said, is the reason Merck has signed licensing agreements with seven Indian companies already.

Hopefully, Tamesis said, Molnupiravir will be available in the Philippines by next month, although this would still depend on whether Indian authorities allow exports of the antiviral medicine.

“While there are already local partners, at the end of the day, they have to get first the exports from India.”

He also dismissed reports that a Molnupiravir in the country would cost patients around $700, saying, “I have great confidence, there is no way we will be at $700.”

He also reminded Filipinos to only get the medicine from official distributors and health-care institutions that have secured CSPs from the FDA.

This, he noted, makes the partnership with RiteMed and other distributors critical.

“I don’t know what channels of distribution they plan to go through. But having heard about hospitals applying for CSP, the hospitals can get to the patients,” he added.

Molnupiravir will help alleviate the burden on the health-care system as it allows health-care workers in hospitals to focus on severe and critical in-patients.

During the trials, the drug regimen was given twice a day for five days to patients diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus.

An analysis of 775 patients in the US found that only 7.3 percent of those given Molnupiravir were hospitalized, compared to the 14.1 percent of patients who were given a placebo or dummy pill.

There were also no reports of deaths in the Molnupiravir group, whereas eight patients who were given a placebo in the trial later died of Covid-19.

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