MSD aims to supply oral COVID drug by year-end

The Japanese arm of US pharmaceutical company Merck says it will quickly apply for government approval of an oral COVID-19 drug so it can supply the medicine in Japan by the end of the year.

Kyle Tattle, the president of MSD, a subsidiary of Merck, and MSD Representative Director Shirasawa Hiromichi spoke with NHK.

They said MSD was in talks with Japanese regulators to have molnupiravir approved. It is designed to interfere with the ability of the coronavirus to replicate.

Merck announced last Friday that molnupiravir showed effectiveness in the final phase of a clinical trial in cutting the risks of hospitalization and death by half.

Tattle said that if approved, the company will sign with the government to quickly supply the amount needed.

Drugs to treat nonsevere COVID-19 patients in Japan have so far taken the form of IV drips and require management by doctors.

People have awaited the development of an oral drug that can be taken at home. Merck says it is ready to supply enough of the medication for 10 million people around the world by the end of the year. Next year it expects to expand production to supply enough for 20 million people.

Shirasawa says MSD plans to set up a distribution system before the expected sixth wave of infection. The company hopes that the drug can eventually be prescribed at local clinics so people can quickly get prescriptions, as with the seasonal flu.