The deal struck by Pfizer and the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) on Tuesday could make the treatment, which is taken orally, available to more than half the world’s population, although Brazil is one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic that has not been given the green-light to roll it out.
Pfizer said the pill, named Paxlovid – which went through clinical trials in November – was shown to cut risk of death or hospitalisation for high-risk adult patients by up to 89 per cent.
Most of the countries who have been granted permits to use the drug are in Africa and Asia.
“We believe oral antiviral treatments can play a vital role in reducing the severity of Covid-19 infections, decreasing the strain on our healthcare systems and saving lives,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and CEO, said.
“We must work to ensure that all people – regardless of where they live or their circumstances – have access to these breakthroughs, and we are pleased to be able to work with MPP to further our commitment to equity.”
The voluntary licensing agreement between Pfizer and the MPP will allow the UN-backed group to grant sub-licences to qualified generic drug manufacturers to make their own versions of the drug.
Pfizer will sell the pills it manufactures under the brand name Paxlovid. The New York City-headquartered company said it would waive royalties in all nations included in the agreement while Covid remains a World Health Organization-designated public health emergency.
Critics have argued that the deal does not go far enough in tackling inequalities in access to Covid treatments.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it was “disheartened” by the deal, which it said was restrictive and excluded countries such as Argentina and China with established capacity for producing generic drugs.
“The world knows by now that access to COVID-19 medical tools needs to be guaranteed for everyone, everywhere, if we really want to control this pandemic,” said Yuanqiong Hu, MSF Senior Legal Policy Adviser.
The drug will be used in combination with ritonavir, an HIV drug that is already available generically.
Pfizer said it hopes its generic version of the drug will be available in months.