Malaysia in race to get Merck Covid-19 drug

SYDNEY, 8 Oct 2021:

Australia and some Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea are the first to join the US for the acquisition of Molnupiravir, an experimental Covid-19 drug developed by the pharmaceutical Merck.

Despite not yet being approved by health authorities, Australia announced this week it had ordered 300,000 doses of Molnupiravir, which Merck says reduces the risk of hospitalisation or death in Covid-19 patients by about 50%, according to results of a clinical study.

“If TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) medical experts approve the use of this treatment, it will join other Covid-19 treatments, such as Sotrovimab and Remdesivir, already available to Australian doctors to help to treat people with Covid-19,” Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday.

The government also reported Monday the arrival in the country of 15,000 doses of Sotrovimab for the treatment of Covid-19, considering it reduces hospitalisation and death rates by 79% of adults.

The second country that has reserved the most doses so far is Malaysia, with 150,000, as announced yesterday by the Health Ministry, to prepare for the next phase of the pandemic in which Covid-19 becomes an endemic disease.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said in parliament that the drug will be administered for free to patients who have had symptoms for at least five days or at the discretion of doctors.

Although Malaysia has already vaccinated almost 90% of its adult population with the full dosage, the minister warned that infections continue to occur, so treatment is necessary as a complement to vaccines.

In South Korea, prime minister Kim Boo-kyum announced on Wednesday that the country had reserved some 20,000 doses of Merck’s experimental drug through an agreement signed with this pharmaceutical company, at a meeting of the government working group dedicated to the pandemic.

South Korea had previously said it is in talks with American company Pfizer and with Switzerland’s Roche, pharmaceutical companies that are also in the race to develop an antiviral pill against Covid-19 that facilitates the treatment of the disease.

In Thailand, Medical Services Department director-general Somsak Akksilp said the country expects to start importing the drug in December or January, without specifying the quantity, although he said Merck must first obtain approval for emergency use in the US and Thailand.

Singapore has also reached an agreement to purchase the drug for its alleged effectiveness against all variants of Covid-19, although the amount is not yet known.