Merck and Singapore sign deal on COVID-19 antiviral pill

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People queue up outside a quick test centre to take their coronavirus disease (COVID-19) antigen rapid tests, in Singapore September 21, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su/

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SINGAPORE, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Pharmaceutical company Merck (MRK.N) announced on Wednesday a supply and purchase agreement with Singapore that will ensure it access to its experimental oral COVID-19 antiviral drug, the latest Asian country aiming to get supplies.

The drug Molnupiravir is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the coronavirus and would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19. Merck is seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the pill.

Singapore’s health ministry confirmed the deal though it declined to comment on the number of doses it purchased, citing commercial sensitivities.

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The ministry said molnupiravir would be available for use after Merck, also known as MSD Pharma in Singapore, submitted data to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and gets authorisation for use in Singapore.

"The addition of molnupiravir to our portfolio of COVID-19 therapeutics ensures that we have a range of treatment options for different patient groups," the ministry told Reuters in an email.

There is no molnupiravir clinical trial in Singapore, it added.

Australia has also bought the Merck pill, while Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia have been in talks to buy it. The Philippines hopes its trial of the pill would allow it access.

The rush to order the drug comes after data from interim clinical trials released on Friday indicated it could reduce by about 50% the likelihood of hospitalisation or death for patients at risk of severe COVID-19.

Singapore reported a record 3,486 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday as it deals with its biggest outbreak of the pandemic.

It has vaccinated 83% of its people against COVID-19.

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Reporting by Chen Lin; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel

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