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Korea is negotiating to advance purchase oral antiviral COVID-19 drug

Korea is negotiating to advance purchase oral antiviral COVID-19 drug

Posted October. 04, 2021 07:11,   

Updated October. 04, 2021 07:11


The Korean government announced that a detailed discussion is underway with Merck, the U.S. drugmaker, to buy oral antiviral for COVID-19. An oral antiviral medicine can be administered with ease in the form of a pill and thus is expected to be a “game changer” that would dramatically transform COVID-19 treatment.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency announced on Monday that it is currently carrying out a detailed discussion with Merck over advance purchase of the drugmaker’s oral antiviral “molnupiavir.” “The agency was recently informed by the U.S. drugmaker of the results from the Phase III trial, which were found to have reduced deaths and be effective against all variants of the coronavirus,” an official said. “The agency finds the results positive.”

According to the results from the Phase III trial Merck released on Friday, among 385 mild or moderate case patients who were given molnupiavir, none died, and 28 patients (7.3%) were hospitalized. Among 377 placebo patients, eight had died and 45 were hospitalized, making a total of 53 patients (14.1%) in the placebo group to become seriously ill.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, commented that it was a “very good news,” and the Food and Drug Administration will review data on Merck’s new COVID oral antiviral as quickly as possible. If approved by the FDA, Merck’s pill would be the first antiviral COVID-19 drug in the world. Merck announced that it expected to produce 10 million courses of treatment by the end of 2021. The U.S. government had earlier stated that it advance purchased 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir. Jeff Zients, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said that the U.S. government has the option to purchase additional doses if the drug receives approval from the FDA.

However, even if oral antiviral pills are released, sufficient supply of the medicine would not be so easy due to the lack of budget to purchase enough doses to cover the needs from home care for patients. The medicine will cost around 950,000 won per person, but the government allocated 36.2 billion won in the next year’s budget for oral antiviral purchase, which will cover only 38,000 patients. The KDCP official said that it is currently working on measures to secure additional budget support by submitting an opinion to the National Assembly Budget Office.

Jong-Yeob JO jjj@donga.com