MSD announces agreement to provide Singapore with antiviral drug molnupiravir for COVID-19 treatment
SINGAPORE: Pharmaceutical company MSD announced on Wednesday (Oct 6) that it has entered a supply and purchase agreement with Singapore to provide molnupiravir, an investigational antiviral drug to treat COVID-19, if it is authorised or approved.
The drug, which is being developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, is currently being evaluated in two Phase 3 clinical trials, said MSD, which is known as Merck in the United States and Canada.
One study is evaluating the drug for the treatment of non-hospitalised patients with “laboratory-confirmed COVID-19" and at least one risk factor associated with poor disease outcomes.
The other study is evaluating molnupiravir for post-exposure prophylaxis, or treatment after the patient has been exposed to the virus.
The company said last Friday that molnupiravir has been shown during trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death by about 50 per cent for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19.
It has also been shown to be active against the most common variants of the COVID-19 virus, including the highly infectious Delta variant.
Under the agreement, Singapore will be able to access the drug once “certain regulatory milestones are achieved”, said MSD.
In response to CNA's queries, the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday confirmed that it has signed an agreement with MSD Pharma (Singapore) to buy molnupiravir.
"The addition of molnupiravir to our portfolio of COVID-19 therapeutics ensures that we have a range of treatment options for different patient groups," said MOH.
Molnupiravir will be available for use after MSD submits their data to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and obtains authorisation for use in Singapore, said the ministry, adding that the timeline for approval is dependent on the company’s submission of data to HSA.
There is currently no molnupiravir clinical trial in Singapore, said MOH, adding that it closely tracks the progress of COVID-19 therapeutics candidates under development globally.
CNA has contacted HSA for more information.
"MSD believes a range of medicines and vaccines will be needed to make an impact on the pandemic," said Ms Pang Lai Li, managing director for MSD in Singapore and Malaysia.
"This agreement is another example of Singapore’s forward-looking strategy of pandemic management and the Government’s commitment to investing in innovative medicines and vaccines to combat the pandemic."
“As the pandemic continues to evolve and surges are being reported in many places around the world, we are hopeful that we can make a meaningful impact on the pandemic through development of an effective oral antiviral that can be taken in earlier stages of disease, outside of hospitalised settings to limit disease progression,” added Dr Nick Kartsonis, MSD Research Laboratories' senior vice president, vaccines and infectious diseases, clinical research.
Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital’s Rophi Clinic, said early treatment of patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 will be a “game-changer”.
“It is going to limit disease progression to more severe illness especially in high-risk patients,” he added.
“Very significantly, we can arm our frontline doctors with oral medications that may make a difference at the point of diagnosis.
“This may shift treatment from hospitals to general practitioners and polyclinics as Singapore pivots towards endemic living with COVID-19.”