The U.S. government will buy another $1 billion worth of the COVID-19 pill made by Merck & Co Inc and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the companies said on Tuesday.
The government in June agreed to buy 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir for $1.2 billion and is now exercising options to buy 1.4 million more.
That brings the total secured courses to 3.1 million and worth $2.2 billion. Merck said the government has the right to buy 2 million more courses as part of the contract.
The drug has been closely watched since data last month showed that when given early in the illness it could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for those most at risk of developing severe COVID-19.
"Molnupiravir, if authorized, will be among the vaccines and medicines available to fight COVID-19 as part of our collective efforts to bring this pandemic to an end," said Frank Clyburn, president of Merck's human health business.
Merck's application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will be taken up by a panel of independent experts on Nov. 30, following which the regulator is expected to make a decision.
Several countries have rushed to sign deals with Merck for the drug, which could become the first oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19. Britain last week became the first country in the world to clear the use of the capsules.
Merck expects to produce 10 million courses of the treatment by the end of this year, with at least 20 million set to be manufactured in 2022.
The U.S. government also has options to buy more than 2 million additional courses under the contract, the companies said.
Shares of Merck were up 1.5% in premarket trading.
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