AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) praised today Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics for granting a royalty-free license to manufacture their COVID-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir in more than 100 developing countries. AHF calls on Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson to follow Merck’s example and voluntarily grant royalty-free manufacturing and distribution rights for their COVID-19 vaccines and facilitate technology transfers to expand generic vaccine production around the world.
“If Merck can grant a voluntary license on its antiviral drug, so can the big three vaccine makers. It is time for them to stop keeping us all hostage to their greed,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “Shameless pandemic profiteering at the expense of global public health must finally stop – it’s foolish to think the pandemic will go away unless we do everything possible to increase vaccine production exponentially and make doses widely available across the world.”
As of October 2021, less than 50% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, with about 80% of those doses going to people in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Less than 8.5% of the 1.3 billion people on the African continent have received even one dose.
Molnupiravir has shown promising results in a clinical trial by reducing the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by half. Merck is seeking emergency use authorization for the antiviral from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics will not collect royalties on the patents as long as the World Health Organization (WHO) considers COVID-19 an international public health emergency. Rights for the drug will be held by the Medicines Patent Pool, which can sub-license it to WHO-approved generic manufacturers. However, the Patent Pool excludes many hard-hit middle-income countries, particularly in Latin America, including Mexico, Chile, and Colombia. To fully realize the potential benefits of molnupiravir to reduce COVID-related hospitalizations and mortality, the rights to manufacture and sell the drug must be extended to these middle-income countries as well.