Following poor trial findings, France has cancelled its order for Merck & Co’s COVID-19 antiviral medicine and aims to get Pfizer’s rival drug by the end of January, according to the health minister.
After Merck released data in late November suggesting its drug was significantly less effective than previously thought, reducing hospitalizations and deaths in a clinical trial of high-risk individuals by about 30%, France became the first country to publicly announce it had cancelled an order for the treatment.
“The most recent tests were not encouraging,” Olivier Veran said on BFM TV.
The country’s planned purchase was canceled, according to a Merck representative, when the French health authorities declined to approve the drug earlier this month.
The business stated that it was continuing to collaborate with the European Medicines Association (EMA) on the drug’s regulatory evaluation. It has agreements to supply or sell the pill in more than 30 countries and has already supplied merchandise to 12 of them.
While vaccinations remain the government’s main weapon against COVID-19, Merck and Pfizer’s experimental medicines might be a game-changer in lowering the risk of death or hospitalization for people most at risk of severe disease.
France has made an early order for 50,000 pills of the Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics medication molnupiravir.
The cancellation would not incur a cost, Veran said.
In Italy, the office of the special commissioner for the COVID emergency said on Nov. 18 it had received a mandate from the health ministry to buy 50,000 courses of Merck’s pill and another 50,000 of Pfizer’s one.
“The contract has not yet been finalised, but is in progress,” a spokesperson for the commissioner told Reuters on Tuesday.
Italian drug regulator Aifa’s head Nicola Magrini told a Senate committee on Dec. 9 the two treatments could be available in Italy from the end of January.
However, regardless of the availability of the drugs, there will be assessments of their use, two top government scientific advisers told Reuters.
“There must and will be an evaluation, independently of the assessments of regulatory bodies,” Walter Ricciardi, top adviser of health minister Roberto Speranza, told Reuters.
Germany has already bought Merck’s antiviral treatment, health minister Karl Lauterbach told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This is a binding order,” he said, adding Berlin was also in talks with Pfizer about buying its antiviral drug.
The EMA is expected to decide whether to approve the Merck and Pfizer pills in the new year.
Pfizer’s Paxlovid has shown near 90% efficacy in preventing COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths in high-risk patients.
France had purchased that drug instead, Veran said, without saying how many doses it had secured.
“France is lined up to get it before the end of January,” Veran continued. It has not yet been decided whether the drug would be available over the counter in pharmacies, the minister said.