The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said on Wednesday it would spend up to $120 million to kick-start development of generic versions of Merck & Co’s oral COVID-19 treatment to help ensure lower-income countries have equal access to the drug.
The aim is to reduce the gap between when wealthy countries have access to the antiviral medicine, molnupiravir, and when the rest of the world can benefit from it.
“To end this pandemic, we need to ensure that everyone, no matter where they live in the world, has access to life-saving health products,” Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, said in a statement.
The Gates Foundation investment will be used to help drugmakers ramp up production of generic molnupiravir, as well as support regulatory filings and prepare local markets, Trevor Mundel, the foundation’s president of Global Health, said in an interview.
Initial data from a clinical trial on Merck’s experimental pill suggest it can halve the risk of serious disease and death from COVID-19 when given early in the illness.
Mundel said the funding would act as a bridge to get the manufacturing process started. Ultimately, he estimated the total cost to launch a generic version of Merck’s antiviral at up to $500 million dollars. “That’s where the global funders are going to have to come in,” he said.