The US government says it has agreed with major pharmaceutical company Merck to buy about 1.7 million courses of its antiviral drug for treating coronavirus patients if it is authorized by regulators.
Merck is developing molnupiravir, which is designed to interfere with the ability of the virus to replicate. The drug is undergoing final tests to evaluate its efficacy in preventing COVID-19 patients with early symptoms from becoming seriously ill.
Merck says if molnupiravir is given emergency use authorization or is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, the firm would receive 1.2 billion dollars to supply the agreed amount of the drug to the US government.
In April, Merck released the results of a phase two clinical study involving non-hospitalized participants. Their COVID-19 symptoms had begun within seven days of the start of the study.
Merck said that while the number of trial cases was still small, the percentage of those who later died or were hospitalized was smaller in the molnupiravir-treated groups.
The firm says it anticipates the earliest possible submission for emergency use authorization will be in the latter half of this year, if it can confirm the drug's efficacy in lowering the risk of hospitalization or death.
Merck says it plans to submit applications for emergency use or approval to regulatory bodies outside of the US and is in discussions with other countries interested in advance purchase agreements.
It expects to have more than 10 million courses of the therapy available by the end of the year.