Sinopharm, Merck sign deal on COVID drug, to negotiate technical transfer
Published: Sep 28, 2022 09:15 PM
Photo: Sinopharm

Photo: Sinopharm

China's large vaccine producer Sinopharm and US pharmaceutical giant Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) signed a cooperation framework agreement on Wednesday, under which Sinopharm would be a dealer and exclusive commission agent of MSD's antiviral COVID-19 medicine in China. 

The two sides will also negotiate the feasibility of a technical transfer under the framework so that the drug Molnupiravir could be produced and provided in the Chinese mainland market, according to a statement Sinopharm sent to the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Application materials for approval of the drug in the mainland have been submitted. Under the cooperation framework, Sinopharm would obtain dealership and exclusive import rights of Molnupiravir. Sinopharm would actively promote the localization of production and provision of the treatment after MSD transfers the techniques in order to help China to fight the pandemic, according to the statement. 

Molnupiravir is one of the two most used oral COVID-19 treatments. The other is Pfizer's Paxlovid. 

According to the statement, Molnupiravir has been approved or put into emergency use in more than 40 countries and regions including the US, EU, Australia, Japan and South Korea, as well as China's Hong Kong and Taiwan regions. As of the end of August, MSD had delivered 8.6 million courses of Molnupiravir to about 30 markets and treated more than 1.8 million patients.  

Wu Hao, the chief of the Infectious Diseases Department of Beijing Youan Hospital, Capital University of Medical Sciences, said at the signing ceremony that Molnupiravir is an oral medication for mild and moderate COVID-19 cases in adults at risk of hospitalization and progression to severe illness. Previous studies showed that it can significantly reduce cases of hospitalization and death. 

Analysis showed that the treatment can reduce hospitalization or death by 30 percent, and it eases symptoms like anosmia, fever and cough. The virus load can largely decrease on the third, fifth and tenth days after treatment, Wu noted. 

A ferret-based animal experiment showed that patients with COVID-19 could become non-infectious within 24-36 hours after the onset of oral treatment, according to Wu.

Previous studies and real world data showed that Molnupiravir has antiviral activity against various SAR-CoV-2 variants including the dominant Omicron, Wu noted.  

According to a study released in early August in the New England Journal of Medicine, some small-molecule antiviral drugs including Molnupiravir may have therapeutic value against the sublineages BA.2.12.1, BA.4, and BA.5 of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variants.

Real world data in China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region showed that Molnupiravir use was associated with a significantly lower risk - 47 percent lower - of disease progression than non-use and 45 percent lower than the risk of mortality connected to non-use, according Wu. 

Another advantage of Molnupiravir compared with other oral antiviral treatments is that it does not trigger drug-drug interactions with existing medications. Thus, it is suitable for COVID-19 patients with renal or liver damage, as well as those of higher ages and all weights, Wu noted.   

"We need more options for COVID-19 treatment in face of the rapidly mutating virus. Molnupiravir is the newest option for China to combat the pandemic," Wu said. 

Sinopharm Chairman Liu Jingzhen said at the signing ceremony that cooperation with MSD is an active practice to treat COVID-19 and build a global community of health for all. Liu hoped that the two sides could exploit each other's advantages, enhance international cooperation, and provide Chinese patients as soon as possible with qualified, accessible and affordable drugs.   

Rob Davis, chief executive officer and president of MSD, said in a statement that MSD is very happy to cooperate with Sinopharm to provide China with the treatment. 

"It's our latest major effort to help the world combat the pandemic and promote the global usage of the treatment," read the statement.