Qualified generic drug manufacturers around the world have just had their doors thrown wide open for business in highly unusual moves by Pfizer and Merck. 

U.S. Drugmaker Pfizer joins Merck in announcing it has signed a highly unusual licensing deal to allow generic versions of its antiviral COVID-19 treatment pill to be manufactured by others for use in 95 countries that cover about 53% of the world's population, and did so even before its branded version was fully authorized for marketing. The pills are currently permitted for emergency use. 

The deals are uncommon arrangements that acknowledge the dire need for effective COVID-19 treatments and the high pressure drugmakers are under to make their life-saving drugs accessible at very low costs.

Pfizer's generic licensing agreement is with international public health group Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). The UN-backed group will grant sub-licences to qualified generic drug manufacturers to make their own versions of PF-07321332. 

Pfizer will sell the pills it manufactures under the brand name Paxlovid, and says it will waive royalties on sales in low income countries. 

Critics have already expressed concern that more deals are needed.  Countries including Argentina and China are not yet included. 

The deal currently signed will employ a special tiered pricing system that requires inclusion of  low- and lower-middle-income countries, and some upper-middle-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. They also included countries that have transitioned from lower-middle to upper-middle-income status in the past five years, according to Pfizer.

Merck has licence agreements for its COVID-19 pill, molnupiravir, in over 100 countries.

Pfizer says their pill reduces the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 by 89%. As with other anti-virals, these work best when taken as soon as possible after infection. Full price in the United States for a course of the treatment either from Merck or Pfizer is currently around $700. 

Photo Credit:Merck & Co Inc/Handout via REUTERS