Gates Foundation Backs Merck’s Antiviral Covid Pill With $120 Million Pledge To Boost Access Across Poorer Nations

Wednesday's announcement by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation indicated that it will allocate up to $120million to increase access to Mercks Covid-19 drug for low-income countries. This is a first-of its kind treatment that can be easily distributed in countries without sufficient vaccine supplies. It has been shown that this drug could reduce hospitalizations and even death rates in high-risk populations.

To increase access to Merck's Molnupiravir, the Gates Foundation will provide funding of up to $120 Million. Merck

The Key Facts

According to the foundation, the money will be used to support activities related to the development and manufacturing of generic versions Merck's drug, Molnupiravir. The foundation stated that the funding will be contingent upon the drug being approved by regulators. This is in addition to its ongoing efforts to improve access to Covid-19 vaccinations, treatments, and tests. It also builds on $1.9 billion of funding since the outbreak. Merck's initial data on Molnupiravir, which Ridgeback Biotherapeutics developed together, was positive and indicated that the antiviral could reduce the risk of Covid-19-related serious illness and death by half. Molnupiravir, which if approved, will be the first antiviral oral pill to treat Covid-19. This foundation called a significant breakthrough in the fight against the pandemic.

Important Quote

Melinda French Gates co-chairs Gates Foundation and stated that everyone must have access the life-saving products to stop the pandemic. However, the unjust truth is that many of the products, including vaccines and personal protective equipment, have been delayed for low-income countries. French Gates called for governments, foundations, and donors to take action to ensure equal access to molnupiravir, other promising treatments, preventatives, and equipment.

Important Background

The oral antiviral medication could prove to be a significant breakthrough in the treatment of Covid-19. There are many public health measures and vaccines that can prevent infection. However, there is not much available for patients who are still in the initial stages of the disease but are not yet seriously ill. This gap could be filled by antiviral pills, which are cheaper, easier to manufacture, distribute and administer. Although it is not yet approved for use, wealthy countries such as the U.S. and Australia have rushed to secure supplies. This has sparked fears about similar inequalities in the global vaccine rush. Merck has tried to increase supply, making deals with generic drug producers to produce lower-cost versions of the antiviral. Merck also promised to double its production. Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator program (ACT-A), which is managed by the WHO, has outlined plans to buy and distribute antivirals to increase access in poorer countries. This is likely to include Mercks Molnupiravir, although it has not been explicitly mentioned.

What to Watch

Regulators have not yet assessed Molnupiravir. The issue will be discussed by an advisory committee of U.S. Food and Drug Administration on November 30.


There are many oral antivirals that can be used against Covid-19, and several more in the late stages of development. Pfizer is currently testing one to prevent or treat Covid-19. Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical giant, and Boston-based Atea Pharmaceuticals failed to make a lead candidate this week in a clinical trial. This could delay approval for a larger study.

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WHO-Led Program will Buy and Distribute Antiviral Pills in Poorer Countries (Forbes).

What is the best time to get a pill for covid? Here Are Three Antiviral Drugs Being Tested (Forbes)

Merck: Its Antiviral Pill Reduces Covid Hospitalizations and Deaths by Half (Forbes).

Antiviral pill: Are we close to developing a drug that can treat Covid? (Financial Times)

The COVID drug hunt reveals how antiviral pill Molnupiravir jumped ahead (Nature).

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