The Union Democrat

Pfizer moves to allow cheap versions of its promising new COVID-19 pill

- By ROBERT LANGRETH and JAMES PATON

Pfizer Inc. reached a licensing agreement that will allow generic-drug manufactur­ers to produce inexpensiv­e versions of its COVID-19 pill for 95 lowand middle-income countries, following a similar move by Merck & Co.

In a statement on Tuesday, Pfizer said it has signed an agreement with the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool to license the experiment­al pill, once it is authorized by regulators, to generic companies that can supply it to countries that account for roughly 53% of the world population. The shares fell 1% in premarket U.S. trading.

Pfizer won’t receive royalties from sales in lowincome countries, and won’t get royalties from sales to middle-income countries covered by the pact as long as COVID-19 is classified as a public-health emergency, according to the statement.

The widely awaited deal could help bolster access to a potent new virusfight­ing tool. Unlike the exotic MRNA technology in Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot, the chemical techniques used to manufactur­e pills are mature and long-establishe­d, and numerous generic companies can cheaply produce them. Pfizer has been under considerab­le pressure to license the technology ever since it announced promising clinical-trial results earlier this month.

Highly effective pills that can be taken at the first sign of infection are seen as crucial for getting the pandemic under control. Pfizer’s drug reduced hospitaliz­ations and deaths by 89% in a large study of high-risk patients, the company said this month. It is applying for emergency authorizat­ion in the U.S. and has said it plans to seek authorizat­ions in other countries soon.

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