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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Will new Covid treatments be as elusive for poor countries as vaccines were in the earlier days?

The overwhelming majority of Covid-19 vaccinations have gone to individuals in rich countries, almost a year after the initial Covid-19 immunization programmed were launched, with no obvious way forward for bridging the gap.

The announcement this month that an antiviral medication had been found to be effective against the coronavirus in a large clinical trial has sparked renewed optimism about the possibility of a turning point in the pandemic: a time in the not-too-distant future when a simple pill could prevent infected people from dying or becoming severely ill.

The medication, molnupiravir, manufactured by Merck, is simple to deliver and may be administered at the patient’s residence. The findings of the study indicated that it reduced the probability of hospitalization and mortality in high-risk individuals who were infected early in the course of their illness by half. The firm has submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use permission; a decision may be made as early as early December.

Drug-access activists believe the Merck licence agreement is a promising first step, but that it is just a first step on the road to equality. In spite of the fact that Merck has started manufacturing of the medication, it is unknown how much of the generic product will be accessible in the first quarter of 2019. Many under-vaccinated countries, like as Ukraine, that have been particularly severely affected by Covid are not included in the accords. Furthermore, an antiviral must be used in conjunction with accurate, cheap testing, which is difficult to come by in many areas.

Several other pharmaceutical firms, including Pfizer, are anticipated to provide effectiveness data from studies of comparable medicines; however, the businesses said that it was too soon to comment on whether they would engage into similar arrangements with the government.

All of this suggests that therapies will continue to be mainly restricted to countries with the financial resources to pay for early access, as has been the case with vaccinations.

When a drug is kept at room temperature, it can be transported to even the most remote parts of the world —- it’s fair to say that this drug could prevent hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and deaths, according to John Amuasi, an infectious disease expert and global health researcher at Ghana’s Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine. “Obviously, the price is a major hurdle. Take, for example, the length of time it has taken for vaccinations to reach Africa. My concern is that we are gradually moving in the direction of doing the same with medicines.”

More than 18 months after the outbreak began, Covid is still mostly a disease that must be endured rather than cured. The few medications that have been proven to be effective — such as monoclonal antibodies — are expensive, difficult to give, and, in impoverished countries, either rare or unavailable. Nonetheless, in the absence of universal immunisation, those people continue to be susceptible to Covid and need cheap medications.

The United States government purchased a large portion of the antiviral remdesivir supply last year after preliminary studies indicated that it might accelerate recovery from Covid. It is now pursuing a strategy similar to this for molnupiravir: It has a $1.2 billion deal to buy 1.7 million courses of the medication if the Food and Drug Administration approves the application. That is 20 percent of the total amount of product the firm expects to manufacture this year. Other comparably wealthy nations, such as Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand, have also inked agreements with the United States.

The eight Indian companies are conducting clinical trials with their versions of the drug, and four of them told The Times that they expected to release results soon. One industry executive, who was not authorised to speak on the record, predicted that his company would be able to produce the drug for less than $10 per course in the near future.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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