“This is hopefully going to make things a lot easier in terms of keeping people out of hospital and stopping people dying in low- and middle-income countries,” said Charles Gore, director of the Medicines Patent Pool

Merck has granted a royalty-free license for its promising Covid-19 pill to a United Nations-backed nonprofit in a deal that would allow the drug to be manufactured and sold cheaply in the poorest nations, where vaccines for the coronavirus are in devastatingly short supply, the New York Times reports.

The agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool, an organization that works to make medical treatment and technologies globally accessible, will allow companies in 105 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, to sublicense the formulation for the antiviral pill, called molnupiravir, and begin making it.

Merck reported this month that the drug halved the rate of hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk Covid patients in a large clinical trial. Affluent nations, including the United States, have rushed to negotiate deals to buy the drug, tying up large portions of the supply even before it has been approved by regulators and raising concerns that poor countries would be shut out of access to the medicine, much as they have been for vaccines.

“The Merck license is a very good and meaningful protection for people living in countries where more than half of the world’s population lives,” said James Love, who leads Knowledge Ecology International, a nonprofit research organization. “It will make a difference.”

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