As the coronavirus surged around the globe, Pfizer was among the vaccine makers who had to fend off criticism for protecting the technology behind its COVID-19 shots. Upon the development of its COVID-19 oral antiviral Paxlovid, however, the Big Pharma was quick to say that it was open to sharing.
Pfizer’s initiative is a step closer to bearing dividends, with news from the United-Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) that 35 companies have signed on to produce a generic version of the treatment, which is for those with a mild to moderate COVID-19. The active ingredient in Paxlovid is known as nirmatrelvir.
Of the 35 companies, six will produce ingredients for the pill, nine will manufacture the finished product and the remaining 20 will do both. The manufacturers span 12 countries from Asia to the Middle East to Eastern Europe and the Caribbean, making the drug available to 95 low- and middle-income countries and covering more than half the world’s population, the MPP said.
“They have been at the back of the queue for vaccines, so having a treatment like this in the armory will be absolutely critical to saving lives,” Charles Gore, the MPP’s executive director, said.
Last November, before the FDA approved Paxlovid, Pfizer struck a sub-licensing deal with the MPP. The agreement came three weeks after Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics made a similar arrangement with the MPP for their oral antiviral molnupiravir.
Both of the COVID-19 pills were approved a few days before Christmas. While Paxlovid showed it could cut hospitalization and death rates by nearly 90%, the efficacy figure for molnupiravir is 30%. Paxlovid also is believed to retain its effectiveness against the omicron variant.
In January, the MPP revealed its sub-licensing deal with Merck included 27 generics manufacturers supplying 105 low- and middle-income countries.
Pfizer and Merck will not receive royalties from sales of the generics as long as the World Health Organization continues to classify the pandemic as a global health emergency. Afterward, sales to low-income countries will remain royalty-free while sales to other countries will be subject to a 5% or 10% royalty depending on income classification.
Nineteen of the companies in the Pfizer deal are in India, including generics giants Sun Pharma, Hetero, Glenmark, Viatris, Torrent, Cipla, Cadila, Biocon and Aurobindo.
Major manufacturers that will produce generic Paxlovid include Teva (Israel), Hikma (Jordan), Fosun (China), Celltrion (South Korea) and Beximco (Bangladesh). Other countries represented by companies in the deal are in Brazil, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Pakistan, Serbia and Vietnam.
A company in Ukraine was enlisted for the effort but was unable to sign on because of the conflict, the MPP said.