Merck inks deal with Sinopharm to commercialize COVID-19 pills in China

A month ago, Zhejiang Huahai revealed a five-year deal to produce and sell Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral Paxlovid exclusively in China.

Now, not to be outdone, Merck has agreed to a similar arrangement in China with its COVID-19 antiviral pills, which were co-developed by Ridgeback. The New Jersey pharma giant has granted Sinopharm exclusive import and distribution rights to Lagevrio (molnupiravir).

Both Pfizer and Merck’s COVID pills won authorization in the United States in December of last year. The treatments are for those who are recently infected with COVID and are at risk for developing a severe form of the virus.

As Merck and Pfizer were developing their respective COVID pills, there was much anticipation for their potential to change the landscape of COVID treatment.

While Pfizer’s pills wowed the industry, reporting 89% effectiveness for reducing the chance of hospitalization and death, the efficacy figure for Merck’s treatment was an underwhelming 30%.

While a disparity of trial results for competing products always comes with a warning about the inconclusiveness of cross-trial comparisons, Paxlovid has clearly become the favored treatment in the United States. But Lagevrio has held its own overseas, becoming the primary COVID therapy in certain countries, such as Japan.

In the second quarter, Merck reported sales of $1.2 billion for Lagevrio. The company also stuck with its annual guidance of between $5 billion and $5.5 billion in sales for the year. For its part, Pfizer is expecting more than $20 billion from Paxlovid this year.

Late last year, Pfizer and Merck signed on with the Medicines Patent Pool, allowing the technology for the production of their respective oral antivirals to be provided to poorer countries.