Deal for Merck's new anti-Covid pill nears

An experimental Covid-19 treatment pill called molnupiravir being developed by Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP (Merck & Co Inc/Handout via Reuters)

A draft agreement to buy anti-Covid Molnupiravir pills is complete and will be scrutinised by the government's legal body before the deal is signed, the Department of Medical Services said. The shipment is likely to arrive in December.

Department of Medical Services director-general Somsak Akksilp said the department has discussed a timeline for purchasing Molnupiravir pills with MSD (Thailand) Ltd, a subsidiary of Merck & Co, a global pharmaceutical company.

Dr Somsak said the 40-page draft purchase agreement is finished. Further steps involve legal considerations.

He said the pill has to be approved for emergency use by both the US and Thai Food and Drug Administration. He said he hoped the Thai FDA will approve it by next month or December at the latest.

"We can't give more details on the amount to be purchased as it might affect the company's quota for Asean members. But [I'm confident] we will get it at a reasonable price," he said. Previously, Dr Somsak told Reuters the government had pre-booked 200,000 courses, under the company's plan to manufacture 10 million courses by the end of this year. The Molnupiravir pills, designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus, would be the first oral antiviral medication for Covid-19.

Interim clinical trials indicated it could reduce by around half the chance of hospitalisation or death for patients at risk of severe disease from Covid-19. It could effectively treat all strains, the study said.

Dr Somsak said the country is now working with Merck on a study on whether the pill can prevent Covid infections. The study will be done in five major hospitals, including Rajavidhi Hospital in Bangkok.

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