Pfizer has agreed a deal with the Medicine Patent Pool (MPP), a United Nations-backed public health organization whose work focuses on providing access to life-saving medicines for low- and middle-income countries, to provide voluntary licensing for its COVID-19 treatment in pill form. The pharmaceutical company's anti-COVID pill will be licensed to generic manufacturers to create greater access to the treatment around the world.
The deal, similar to the one the MPP made with Merck for its anti-COVID pill a few weeks ago, will allow the production of an affordable version of the antiviral pill Paxlovid for as long as the World Health Organization considers COVID-19 a pandemic. Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral treatment candidate PF-07321332 has shown a reduced risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent compared to a placebo in interim trial results. This deal will save lives across the world.
“Pfizer remains committed to bringing forth scientific breakthroughs to help end this pandemic for all people. 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,” Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Pfizer, said in a statement.
“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.”
While the commitment to cheaper and thus more available treatments is commendable, there have been criticisms that the licenses being waivered are for anti-COVID pills, not vaccines. Many people in lower-income countries around the world don't have access to vaccines yet. As of today, only 4.6 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose. According to an analysis by The Economist, many poorer nations aren't expected to have widespread access to COVID vaccines until 2023.
“This license is so important because, if authorized or approved, this oral drug is particularly well-suited for low- and middle-income countries and could play a critical role in saving lives, contributing to global efforts to fight the current pandemic,” said Charles Gore, Executive Director of MPP. “PF-07321332 is to be taken together with ritonavir, an HIV medicine we know well, as we have had a license on it for many years, and we will be working with generic companies to ensure there is enough supply for both COVID-19 and HIV.”
Making some treatment patents available is promising, but widespread access to all available vaccines would halt the pandemic much quicker. Instead, after nearly a year of vaccines being available in most higher-income or Western countries, some pharmaceutical companies, such as AstraZeneca, are looking to start making profits from their creations.
Vaccine nationalism, where richer nations have hoarded the vaccines in the early phases of the pandemic, has also contributed to the global vaccine inequality — something the WHO warned early on would undermine the global recovery effort.
This advantage is currently facing being lost, however, as Europe has become the epicenter of the pandemic again, mainly through the slow opposition of vaccine hesitancy being promoted by far-right political parties and vocal groups and removing public health measures. In the last week Austria, The Netherlands, and Germany have either brought in new COVID restrictions and lockdown meaasures or are about to.
The potential for new variants that can elude current vaccines is heightened during new waves of cases, though they seem to be holding so far. Any treatment is of huge importance, so Pfizer's anti-COVD pill now being affordable and accessible in many countries that are still experiencing pre-vaccine COVID waves is good news.