Recognizing the delays that have plagued low-income countries at nearly every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced this week a pledge of up to $120 million to accelerate access to the antiviral drug molnupiravir among low-income nations.
Molnupiravir is not yet authorized by regulators. Still, initial data reported by its developers, Merck & Co and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, show the broad-spectrum antiviral could cut the risk of serious COVID-19 cases and death by as much as half. It would also represent the first oral outpatient drug authorized for use in treating COVID-19 patients with mild and moderate cases. It awaits review by regulators throughout the world.
“To end this pandemic, we need to ensure that everyone, no matter where they live in the world, has access to life-saving health products,” Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, said. “The unjust reality, however, is that low-income countries have had to wait for everything from personal protective equipment to vaccines. That is unacceptable. Today’s commitment will ensure that more people in more countries get access to the promising drug molnupiravir, but it’s not the end of the story—we need other donors, including foundations and governments, to act.”
Funding will be distributed based on the foundation’s consultations with partners and dedicated to various activities needed to develop and manufacture generic versions of molnupiravir. It also adds to the approximately $1.9 billion the Gates Foundation has pumped into access efforts for research and development, regulatory work, at-risk manufacturing, and product delivery since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We applaud the foundation for its commitment and look forward to continuing our collaboration to ensure this potentially lifesaving treatment, upon regulatory approval, is accessible to as many Africans as possible,” Strive Masiyiwa, African Union special envoy on COVID-19 response, said. “This would be a step forward in balancing the inequities seen to date in availability of innovations during the pandemic.”
Currently, the gap between approval of global health products and roll-out to lower-income countries tends to be at least a year. With this funding, the Gates Foundation hopes to reduce that timeframe for molnupiravir significantly.