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Weekly Comic: Merck's Covid-19 Pill - Good News but No Game-Changer

EconomyOct 05, 2021 01:17PM ET
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By Geoffrey Smith 

Investing.com -- The stock market loved it, but euphoria at Merck's (NYSE:MRK) announcement last week that it may have an effective Covid-19 drug that can be taken in pill form is probably premature.

To be sure, the news is nothing to be sniffed at. The interim results of a curtailed phase 3 trial – typically the last in a series required for new drugs – suggest very strongly that the drug is effective in preventing serious illness and death and is free from significant side-effects.

If that is confirmed by regulators, then the world will have its first effective Covid treatment in tablet form – easier by orders of magnitude to mass-manufacture, distribute and administer than vaccines.

However, it is unlikely to be a standalone answer the biggest problem in bringing Covid-19 under control: the still-low vaccination rates in poorer countries. Fewer than 20% of India’s 1.38 billion population are fully vaccinated. Of Africa’s seven most populous countries, accounting for over 730 million people, only South Africa has a vaccination rate over 6%. Molnupiravir will not stop the disease from spreading and mutating freely among these people.

An antiviral pill is in the first instance a remedy, not a prophylactic. It is not an adequate substitute for mass-vaccination.  Merck’s press release suggested that the drug does have some prophylactic quality, but the clinical trial has only focused on treating people who already have Covid.

As such, the drug is likely to have a greater impact – at least initially – in the rich world, where it appears excellently suited as a second line of defense in combating ‘breakthrough’ infections among the vaccinated, and as a safety net to the substantial minorities who have refused or been unable to take vaccines.

Whether state-backed health insurers will want to underwrite a $700 course of tablets for people who have refused to take a $20 vaccine is another matter, especially if it makes people more inclined to accept the first and best line of defense against Covid.

Before that stage is reached, though, there are more pressing questions to answer. The most pressing regard its safety. 

Merck excluded pregnant women from its test and insisted on patients abstaining from sex during the treatment, suggesting that it has not ruled out the risk that the drug’s technology, which deliberately fouls up the way the virus replicates itself, may have unintended consequences.  Obviously, such things are beyond the scope of a 29-day trial.

Assuming the drug is ultimately approved, Merck looks likely to do well enough out of it. It already has a $1.2 billion preliminary sales contract with the U.S., and others are lining up to place orders: Australia ordered 300,000 courses earlier this week.

But there is no guessing how much it can make from the drug in poorer countries, given the lack of public detail about pricing in its preliminary agreement with generic drug manufacturers in India. Moreover, it is unlikely to have the field to itself for long. Roche and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) both have antiviral remedies in the pipeline.  

All of that, naturally, is good for consumers, health systems and anyone who wants a return to pre-Covid conditions as soon as possible. But the real pandemic game-changer remains mass-vaccination. The rewards of delivering that seem likely to be bigger, at the end of the day, than the rewards awaiting Merck shareholders.

Weekly Comic: Merck's Covid-19 Pill - Good News but No Game-Changer
 

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Comments (11)
Expressions Productions
Expressions Productions Oct 05, 2021 11:12PM ET
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The real game changer will be Vaxart VSAT oral delicery for SARS Covid19. Unfortunately media wants instant solutions for such a devaststibh virus.
Prinvesta Dong
Prinvesta Oct 05, 2021 7:56PM ET
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i agree with that. But the real game changer is not both of them, but tapering. I think it changes people mind to invest short time investment than the long one. We can see what happen in MRNA & BNTX, even before the pills announced.
Ayumastura PinkLady
Ayumastura PinkLady Oct 05, 2021 4:21PM ET
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i think vaccine and pills both work in different ways. Vaccine is to create immune system so that when infected, the risk it becomes more severe is reduced. While pills is to cure the illness. Especially to those in stage 4/5, they need this pills. Elderly, those with critical illness, their chances to get severe is still high although they have completed both doses. Vaccine to protect, pills to cure. We need both them. Both related company should rise together coz they're not substitute.
Bechem Success
Bechem Success Oct 05, 2021 4:15PM ET
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good evening to everyone
Pisith Pisith
Pisith Pisith Oct 05, 2021 4:05PM ET
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pisithpisith
Jeff Hermann
Jeff Hermann Oct 05, 2021 3:31PM ET
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Merck's new Covid pill is called "Imerckmectin" - not to be confused with a generic drug that is virtually identical and has a similar sounding name.
Chhunna Chhil
Chhunna Chhil Oct 05, 2021 2:58PM ET
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really me!
Kris GE
Kris GE Oct 05, 2021 2:43PM ET
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"the world will have its first effective Covid treatment" this is misinformation. There are already drugs like Ivermectine, Amantadine, HCQ, that cost about 1/20 of the $700 price tag of Merck drug. However these drugs are very cheap, and this is the reason why the Gov with big pharma are stifling their use.
Richard Sullivan
Richard Sullivan Oct 05, 2021 2:43PM ET
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read the whole sentence
Roman Silver
Roman Silver Oct 05, 2021 2:42PM ET
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can't wait to try this iverMercktin
Karim Adatia
Karim Adatia Oct 05, 2021 2:38PM ET
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As always... well written. Thank you for doing the research and presenting the facts. 👍
Jamiu Aliml
Jamiu Aliml Oct 05, 2021 2:36PM ET
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jamzyola
Jamiu Aliml
Jamiu Aliml Oct 05, 2021 2:36PM ET
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Jamiu Aliml
 
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