On 27th October 2021, Merck Sharpe Dohme (MSD) and the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) announced a voluntary licensing agreement covering 105 low-and middle-income countries (LMIC) for the promising investigational oral COVID-19 antiviral molnupiravir. The voluntary license (VL) permits multiple local manufacturers to produce generic versions of molnupiravir, but it has significant flaws. Many high-burden countries currently being devastated by COVID-19 are excluded from the VL (including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Ukraine, Thailand, Turkey, and several others). These countries must pay the price MSD wants to charge for molnupiravir ($712/course), instead of having access to affordable generic versions ($19,99/course).
While more analysis is needed to fully understand the complex provisions of this voluntary license, ITPC considers this agreement to be extremely disappointing. Voluntary strategies, including voluntary licensing, allow Pharma to retain control of competition, markets and pricing, while purporting to be a global good, public health measure in the service of enhancing their image. Instead of increasing access to a potentially lifesaving medicine, this VL aims to establish a lucrative market monopoly for MSD and to narrow the small existing space available for using TRIPS flexibilities (such as patent oppositions, compulsory licensing and Bolar provision).
Read the full article on the Make Medicines Affordable website.