Pfizer said Tuesday it signed an agreement to license its experimental pill for COVID-19 to qualified generic makers, potentially expanding its reach to countries that account for more than half of the global population.
Pfizer said the agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), a United Nations-backed public health organization that promotes access to medicines, will supply the drug to low- and middle-income countries and upper-middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
The drugmaker is seeking regulatory approval for its course of pills, which are taken with a low dose of ritonavir, an existing drug. Trials showed patients who received the pills saw an 89% reduction in the risk of hospitalization or death compared to a placebo group.
“We believe oral antiviral treatments can play a vital role in reducing the severity of COVID-19 infections, decreasing the strain on our healthcare systems and saving lives,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said. “We must work to ensure that all people — regardless of where they live or their circumstances — have access to these breakthroughs, and we are pleased to be able to work with MPP to further our commitment to equity.”
The company said it will not take royalties from poorer countries and will waive royalties in all countries while COVID-19 is classified as a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization.
The move comes amid growing pressure to share life-saving technology with poorer countries that have struggled to defend themselves against COVID-19.
At the same time, Pfizer and other drugmakers have resisted ideas to waive patents on their COVID-19 vaccines. Officials in Europe and elsewhere don’t like the idea of watering down the intellectual property behind the shots, saying poorer countries wouldn’t be able to stand up the facilities needed to make the vaccines, anyway.