Japan well being panel approves Merck’s oral COVID-19 remedy By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view of the Merck & Co. campus in Linden, New Jersey March 9, 2009. REUTERS / Jeff Zelevansky

By Rocky Swift and Kantaro Komiya

TOKYO (Reuters) – A panel from Japan’s Ministry of Health on Friday recommended approval of the COVID-19 antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co Inc, which is part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s plan to introduce new treatments by the end of the year, amid concerns regarding the Omicron. come up variant.

The panel’s decision sets the stage for the shipment of 200,000 cans across the country starting this weekend, based on the preparations previously announced by Kishida.

“I am convinced that the distribution of this drug is a big step forward in dealing with COVID-19 in our country,” Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters after the decision, adding that some medical institutions and pharmacies are stopping the pill will be received immediately Monday.

Japan relies heavily on oral treatments to keep serious infections and deaths at bay should a feared sixth wave of the pandemic emerge. Last month the government agreed to pay Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics around US $ 1.2 billion for 1.6 million courses of their drug molnupiravir.

In addition, last week, Kishida announced an agreement to source 2 million doses of a separate antiviral pill developed by Pfizer Inc. (NYSE 🙂 and Japan’s Shionogi & Co is expected to file for approval of its own treatment shortly and ship an additional 1 million doses by early next year.

US regulators on Thursday approved the Merck pill for certain high-risk adult patients.

Countries rushed to buy Merck’s molnupiravir after very promising initial results, but later company data in late November showed the drug was significantly less effective than previously thought. France canceled its order on Wednesday.

When asked about the debate about its effectiveness, Goto said Friday that the Japanese panel had assessed the use of molnupiravir based primarily on the previous test result, while adding the updated result “which does not negate the effectiveness of this drug”.

Japan this week confirmed the first known cases of Omicron infection that could not be traced back to overseas travelers. Community transmissions of the variant have now been found in the western cities of Osaka and Kyoto, and a suspected case became known in Tokyo on Friday.

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