Generic drug manufacturers will make a more affordable version of Merck’s anti-Covid pill for 105 of the world’s poorer nations, a UN-backed organisation said on Thursday. The global Medicines Patent Pool signed agreements with 27 manufacturers to produce the oral antiviral medicine molnupiravir, for supply in low- and-middle-income countries. “This is a critical step toward ensuring global access to an urgently needed Covid-19 treatment and we are confident that… the anticipated treatments will be rapidly available in LMICs,” said MPP executive director Charles Gore. Merck granted a licence to the MPP in an agreement announced in October. The MPP, in turn, issued sub-licences to the generic drugs makers. The sub-licences allow manufacturers to produce the raw ingredients for molnupiravir, and/or the finished drug itself. The companies are spread across Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Jordan, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea and Vietnam. Five manufacturers will focus on producing the raw ingredients; 13 will produce both raw ingredients and molnupiravir itself; while nine will simply produce the finished drug. Antivirals like molnupiravir work by decreasing the ability of a virus to replicate, thereby slowing down the disease. Given to patients within days of a positive test, the treatment cuts the risk of hospitalisation, according to Merck, also called MSD outside the United States. “Accelerating broad, affordable access to molnupiravir has been a priority for MSD from the start,” said the company’s Paul Schaper. “We are pleased to see this vision come to life.” Merck jointly developed molnupiravir with the Miami-based company Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. They will not receive sales royalties while Covid-19 remains classified as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) by the WHO. A PHEIC is the highest alarm the WHO can sound and its emergency committee last week reconfirmed the pandemic’s top-alert status. The Geneva-based MPP is a United Nations-backed international organisation that works to facilitate the development of medicines for low- and middle-income nations. It was founded by Unitaid, which works on innovations to prevent, diagnose and treat major diseases in poorer countries.