Nov. 9 (Reuters) – A Bangladeshi drugmaker will soon begin selling the world’s first generic version of Merck’s COVID-19 pill, molnupiravir, which has been touted as a potential game-changer in the fight against the pandemic.
Beximco Pharmaceuticals (BXPH.DH) will first sell generic molnupiravir in Bangladesh before considering exports based on global regulatory approvals, it said Tuesday. The generic version has been approved for emergency use by Bangladesh’s drug regulators.
Generic drugs like Beximco’s are cheaper versions of branded drugs and help increase access to treatment in poorer countries.
Molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, received its first global regulatory approval in the UK last week. read more It is under regulatory review in the United States and Europe.
“We believe that (generic molnupiravir) can play an important role in fighting the pandemic, especially in low- and middle-income countries where access to vaccines is limited,” Beximco director Nazmul Hassan said in a statement.
The drug has a maximum retail price of 70 taka (82 cents) per capsule, or 2,800 taka ($33) for a full course, a Beximco representative said, adding that it was trying to cut prices.
The US government is buying 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir for $700 per course. Many Asian countries have agreements to buy the drug at lower prices.
A number of companies are rushing to develop drugs to fight the pandemic beyond vaccines, but only a few are developing easily absorbable oral pills.
Molnupiravir has been closely watched since data last month showed it could halve the risk of death or hospitalization for those most at risk of developing severe COVID-19. Experts hailed the results as a potential breakthrough.
Meanwhile, Pfizer (PFE.N) said last week that its experimental pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of severe COVID-19 by 89%. The news boosted Pfizer’s stock price while undermining Merck’s. read more
Beximco’s representative said the company does not have an agreement with Merck, but can sell generic molnupiravir under a World Trade Organization waiver of intellectual property rules for COVID-19 drugs in developing countries.
Beximco cannot export to most western countries as the exemption only allows generic drugs to be sold to less economically developed countries that do not have patent protection regimes, the spokesman said.
Merck did not respond to a request for comment.
The US drugmaker has licensing agreements with at least eight Indian drugmakers for molnupiravir, with the aim of turning the South Asian country into a manufacturing center for the drug to supply low- and middle-income countries.
It also has a licensing agreement with the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool so that more companies can make generic molnupiravir. read more
Beximco said it does not expect sales of generic molnupiravir to significantly increase revenues given the currently low COVID-19 infections in Bangladesh, which borders India.
London-listed shares rose 6.2% to 107.25 pence by 0930 GMT.
($1 = 85,4800 taka)
Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Pushkala Aripaka; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Louise Heavens
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