Gates Foundation to Fund $120 Million of Oral COVID-19 Drug for Poor Nations

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in its COVID-19 response, will fund up to $120 million to increase access to an experimental drug for lower-income countries, which will be used in treating COVID-19, the foundation announced on Tuesday.

The funding will support efforts to develop and make generic versions of what could become the first oral antiviral medication for the disease if it wins regulatory approval, it explained in a statement.

Merck has taken important steps to make this drug available as a COVID-19 therapy, including negotiating licenses with generics manufacturers to increase supply. We are pleased to work alongside these efforts to ensure affordability and availability in lower-income countries,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the foundation.

The tablet medicine, dubbed “molnupiravir,” is being developed by pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. and is meant to combat cases of mild or moderate CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.

Earlier this month, an interim analysis of its phase 3 trial studying the drug showed it was effective in cutting the risk of hospitalization or death in half for adults who were deemed at risk but not hospitalized, according to a summary Merck released.

Merck's antiviral pill
Merck’s antiviral pill against COVID-19 is seen in an undated photograph. (Merck via AP)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently reviewing the medication for approval in the United States as the decision on whether to authorize the drug for use sits with national regulatory agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO).

The final test results of the experimental medication haven’t yet been published, and some experts have said they’re worried about how the pill attacks the virus.

“There is a concern that this will cause long-term mutation effects, even cancer,” Dr. Shuntai Zhou, a scientist at the Swanstrom Lab at the University of North Carolina, told Barron’s.

Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, told The Epoch Times that the concern is theoretical for now and that it’s likely that signaling of rare adverse events would only be possible with long-term trials, because premarket trials typically only involve several thousand participants.

Molnupiravir embeds itself in the virus’s genetic material and causes a high number of mutations, ultimately overwhelming it to extinction, a process known as lethal mutagenesis.

Launched in 2000, the non-profit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the United States’ largest private philanthropic foundation and one of the world’s biggest, pouring about $1.9 billion into the fight against the pandemic since last year.

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.