COVID: Merck's antiviral drug molnupiravir to be available after HSA's approval – MOH

·Editorial Team
·2 min read
Medicine pill is seen with Merck logo displayed on a screen in the background in this illustration photo taken in Poland on October 4, 2021. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A pill is seen with Merck logo displayed on a screen in the background in this illustration photo taken in Poland on 4 October, 2021. (PHOTO: NurPhoto via Getty Images)

UPDATE: The story has been updated with the Ministry of Health (MOH)'s response on 7 October.

SINGAPORE — Multinational pharmaceutical company Merck on Wednesday (6 October) entered into a supply and purchase agreement with the Singapore government for the investigational oral antiviral drug molnupiravir.

In a statement on Wednesday, Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), known as Merck & Co in the United States and Canada, said the use of the drug depended on approval by Singapore health authorities.

In response to Yahoo News Singapore's media queries, the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday confirmed that it had signed an agreement with MSD Pharma (Singapore) to purchase the drug. 

The drug will be available for use after the MSD submits their data to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and obtains authorisation for use in Singapore, it added. 

"The timeline for approval is dependent on the company’s submission of data to the HSA. There is currently no molnupiravir clinical trial in Singapore," said the MOH.

It added that it will not be able to disclose more information due to commercial sensitivities and confidentiality undertakings in the agreement.

Early trial results suggest that the antiviral drug, originally developed to treat influenza, reduces hospitalisation and death from the coronavirus by half in patients recently infected with the virus.

Molnupiravir is currently undergoing two Phase 3 clinical trials globally, involving several thousand participants. It has been shown to be active in several pre-clinical models, including for prophylaxis, treatment, and prevention of transmission. 

Pre-clinical and clinical data have also shown molnupiravir to be active against the most common COVID-19 variants, the drugmaker said.

Infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam said the drug would be a "game-changer" for early treatment of patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19, as it would limit disease progression to more severe illness, especially in high-risk patients.

"Very significantly, we can arm our frontline doctors with oral medications that may make a difference at the point of diagnosis. This may shift treatment from hospitals to general practitioners and polyclinics as Singapore pivots towards endemic living with COVID-19,” he added.

Merck is developing molnupiravir in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

In anticipation of positive results from the trials, MSD expects to produce 10 million courses of molnupiravir treatment by the end of this year. It has also entered into supply and purchase agreements for molnupiravir with some governments.

The drugmaker said it is committed to providing timely access to molnupiravir globally if authorised or approved and plans to implement a tiered pricing approach based on World Bank country income criteria.

MSD previously announced that it had entered into non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements for molnupiravir with manufacturers to accelerate the availability of the drug in more than 100 low- and middle-income countries following approvals or authorisation.

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