Pharmaceutical company Merck has agreed to provide the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) with up to 3 million courses of its COVID-19 antiviral pill, it announced on Tuesday.
Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics will provide the pill, molnupiravir, to UNICEF over the first half of 2022 for distribution to 100 low- and middle-income countries, pending local regulatory authorizations.
"I am proud of the fact that patients in these low- and middle-income countries will gain access at the same time as patients in countries with higher incomes," Merck's CEO and President Robert Davis said in a statement.
Wendy Holman, CEO of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, said the drug "can play a significant role in global efforts to address the pandemic," adding the agreement with UNICEF will "help address global health challenges and inequities."
Merck has entered into supply agreements with multiple countries since the advent of the molnupiravir pill.
The drug was authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December to treat high-risk adults with mild or moderate cases of COVID-19.
Molnupiravir, which is administered as a five-day treatment, targets the enzyme that allows the coronavirus to make copies of itself. Merck announced testing results in October showing that the pill reduced the risk of hospitalization by 50 percent.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has referred to molnupiravir as a "game changer."