The UK health department has fast-tracked two new deals with Merck and Pfizer to secure an additional 4.25m courses of their anti-Covid pills as it lines up defences for the NHS ahead of an expected winter wave of the new Omicron variant.
In the deals announced today, the government has secured 1.75m additional courses of Merck Sharp and Dohme’s antiviral pill and 2.5m additional courses of Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill. Both orders are expected early next year and both pills are expected to be effective against Omicron.
It comes after the government announced it had bought 480,000 courses of Merck’s pill and 250,000 courses of Pfizer’s in October.
“The significant new deals have been accelerated following the emergence of the Omicron variant to protect vulnerable people over the coming months,” the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement.
“The move will help reduce hospitalisations and therefore ease pressures on the NHS.”
Britian approved the first molnupiravir Covid antiviral pill that was jointly developed by US drug companies Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics for use in November.
The UK regulator, the MHRA, said the tablet had been authorised for use in people who have mild to moderate Covid and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness such as obesity, old age, diabetes or heart disease.
Its first clinical trials suggest the Merck pill offers a risk reduction of around 30 per cent compared to a placebo group.
Pfizer’s pill is yet to be approved for use in the UK by the MHRA, however. But it’s fared slightly better in its final clinical trials last month: among high-risk patients, the pill was found to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death by 89 per cent, and early tests suggest it is effective against the Omicron variant.
The news comes after reports emerged last night that the US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is poised to authorise both pills developed by Pfizer and Merck for the treatment of Covid in the coming days.