Merck & Co Inc and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said on Tuesday the U.S. government would pay about $1 billion to buy an additional 1.4 million courses of their COVID-19 pill.
Merck's Molnupiravir 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.
With Tuesday's purchase, the United States will have now secured a total of 3.1 million courses.
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.
The U.S. government had in June agreed to spend $1.2 billion for 1.7 million courses. It is now exercising options to buy the extra doses, valuing the contract at roughly $2.2 billion for a total of 3.1 million courses, the companies said.
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 purchase more than 2 million additional courses under the contract, the companies said.
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