Jolt for Merck as France cancels order for Covid antiviral drug

New DelhiUpdated: Dec 23, 2021, 09:33 PM IST

FILE PHOTO: An experimental COVID-19 treatment pill, called molnupiravir and being developed by Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP, is seen in this undated handout photo released by Merck & Co Inc and obtained by Reuters on October 26, 2021. Photograph:(Reuters)

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France is now hoping to get Merck's rival Pfizer's pill before end of January. France has taken decision to cancel its order with Merck as company's trial data yielded disappointing results against Covid infection

French health minister said on Wednesday that France had cancelled its order of Merck & Co's Covid antiviral drug. This step was taken after the trail data showed disappointing results. France has become first country to publicly cancel the order. The country now hopes to receive Pfizer's drug before end of January.

Merck had released its data in November suggesting its drug was markedly less effective than previously thought, reducing hospitalisations and deaths in its clinical trial of high-risk individuals by about 30%.

There was no immediate reaction from Merck.

While vaccines are the main weapons against COVID-19 for governments, there are hopes Merck and Pfizer's experimental pills could be a game-changer in reducing the chances of dying or hospitalisation for those most at risk of severe illness.

France had placed an early order for 50,000 doses of the nucleoside analogue drug molnupiravir developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

The cancellation would not incur a cost, Veran said.

In Italy, the office of the special commissioner for the COVID emergency said on Nov 18 it had received a mandate from the health ministry to buy 50,000 courses of Merck's pill and another 50,000 of Pfizer's. "The contract has not yet been finalised, but is in progress," a spokesperson for the commissioner told Reuters on Tuesday.

Italian drug regulator Aifa's head Nicola Magrini told a Senate committee on Dec. 9 the two treatments could be available in Italy from the end of January.

However, regardless of the availability of the drugs, there will be assessments of their use, two top government scientific advisers told Reuters.

"There must and will be an evaluation, independently of the assessments of regulatory bodies," Walter Ricciardi, top adviser of health minister Roberto Speranza, told Reuters.

Germany has already bought Merck's antiviral treatment, health minister Karl Lauterbach told Reuters on Wednesday.

(With inputs from agencies)