“It’s no coincidence that Merck has experience with HIV – internally, with their leadership and their culture, they know that if they don’t meet the access challenges, they will be criticized,” said Dr Moon, co-director of the Global Health Center of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
Generic manufacturing is not in itself a guarantee of global access. Half of all coronavirus infections reported in low- and middle-income countries in the first six months of 2021 occurred in 32 countries excluded from the Merck license. Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico and Peru are not included. China and Russia either.
Generic production licenses for small territories can leave middle-income countries with fragile public health systems paying almost as high prices as rich countries. Merck says it will use the World Bank’s income data from those countries to calculate what it charges for the drug in each.
Merck is also in negotiations with the Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed non-profit organization that works to make medical treatments and technologies accessible. Charles Gore, director of the organization, said he hoped Merck would agree to a licensing deal that could allow companies in an even wider range of locations to manufacture the drug, while Merck sells its own product in countries rich. Such a deal, he said, would set an important precedent for other companies.
If Merck, Pfizer, or other drugmakers do not ensure wide availability of Covid treatments, they could face widespread use of compulsory licensing, in which governments override intellectual property restrictions to allow drug manufacturing. , often in emergency situations. While Merck will levy a royalty on drugs sold by generic manufacturers, and likely also on any deals made through the patent pool, under compulsory licensing, the company has no say in the price. drug or the amount of the fee.
Unitaid, the Geneva-based global health agency, said $ 3.5 billion in new funding from rich countries was needed to make treatments accessible, with most of it going to antivirals in low-income countries. .
“We need a global effort. We need donors to provide funds to ensure treatments reach everyone, ”said Janet Ginnard, Director of Strategy.