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Merck’s COVID-19 pill molnupiravir hits Bangladesh markets

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Bangladesh’s pharmaceutical companies have begun marketing generic versions of Merck's COVID-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir, the first of its kind, upon approval from regulators.

Beximco began the sales on Tuesday after getting the emergency production and marketing authorisation on Monday, said Maj Gen Md Mahbubur Rahman, director-general of the Directorate General of Drug Administration.

Eskayef and Square Pharmaceuticals, who received nods for the production and marketing of the drug, will begin marketing the pill within the next week, reports

Incepta, General Pharma, Beacon Pharma, Renata and three other companies have also received the production go-ahead from the DGDA.

Beximco Pharma is supplying the drug with the brand name Emorivir at Tk 70 per capsule. Eskayef has priced its pills, Monuvir, at Tk 50 each.  

A patient needs to take eight 200 mg capsules daily - four at a time, two times a day - for five days following a doctor’s prescription to treat mild to moderate infections. Trial research has suggested that the pill is likely to be most effective when taken during the early stages of infection.

“We think the drug will help eliminate coronavirus from the country,” said Mahbubur, the chief of DGDA.

Bangladeshi pharmaceutical companies were able to swiftly bring in the medicine due to having rights to “copyright exemption” on some drugs as a “developing country”, Mahbubur said.

On Oct 27, Merck granted a royalty-free licence for its promising COVID-19 pill to the United Nations-backed nonprofit Medicines Patent Pool, an organisation that works to make medical treatment and technologies globally accessible.

The deal has allowed companies in 105 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia and including Bangladesh, to sublicence the formulation for the antiviral pill and begin making it.

A large clinical trial showed that molnupiravir halved the risk of hospitalisation and death in high-risk COVID patients who took the drug soon after infection.

Beximco said 7.3 per cent of molnupiravir patients were hospitalised after 29 days compared to 14.1 per cent of patients who were treated with a placebo.

On Nov 4, Britain became the first country in the world to approve the potential antiviral pill, sold under the brand name Lagevrio, developed jointly by Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, both based in the US.

Molnupiravir works by interfering with the replication of the virus. This prevents it from multiplying, keeping virus levels low in the body and therefore reducing the severity of the disease, Beximco says.

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