First approval for promising new antiviral . . .
On Friday, the U.K. became the first country to license Molnupiravir, a new antiviral drug for COVID-19. Hailed as a potential “game-changer,” Molnupiravir is the first such drug that can be taken orally, and early results from clinical trials have been extremely promising, demonstrating a 50 per cent reduction in hospitalization and death among patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer also announced that it is seeking emergency-use authorization for its anti-COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid, whose clinical trials showed an 89 per cent decreased risk of hospitalization or death in adults at high risk of developing severe disease. The Asia Pacific region placed the majority of pre-orders for Molnupiravir.
New drugs could pave the way for re-opening . . .
Australia, Singapore, and South Korea, all countries that have dealt with recent surges as they attempt to emerge from their ‘zero-covid’ strategies, have been among the first to secure supplies of the drugs. They hope to avoid replicating the delays in vaccine procurement that kept their vaccination rates low well into the summer. Although the new antivirals do not negate the importance of vaccination, in the short term, they could particularly benefit countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, and Papua New Guinea, which are among the most vulnerable to new surges as they struggle to reach adequate vaccination rates. Enthusiasm for these impending drugs also reached Asian stocks on Monday, with sectors hit hardest by COVID-related closures, such as airlines and casinos, seeing a sharp rise in their shares.
Low-income countries seeking access . . .
Less wealthy nations in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, are also eagerly pursuing supplies of the new antivirals as they seek to re-open and recover from the extensive damage that the pandemic has wrought on their economies, particularly within the tourism sector. To facilitate distribution of these drugs to lower-income countries, Merck has signed licensing agreements for generic manufacture of Molnupiravir with eight Indian companies and has signed a royalty-free agreement with the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool to help make generic versions of Molnupiravir available in 105 low- and middle-income countries.