By Sangmi Cha
SEOUL, Oct 6 (Reuters) – South Korea has secured 20,000 courses of an experimental antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co (MRK.N) for COVID-19 treatment, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said on Wednesday, joining other Asian nations rushing to snap up supplies.
Merck also announced on Wednesday a supply and purchase agreement with Singapore, following Australia, while Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia said they are in talks to buy it.
Molnupiravir, on its way to be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19, could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19. Merck is seeking approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the pill.
The course of treatment involves patients taking four pills twice daily for five days.
“We already have secured a budget enough for treatment of around 40,000 people and have signed a pre-purchase deal for 20,000 courses,” Kim told a COVID-19 response meeting on Wednesday.
South Korea is also looking to buy other antiviral drugs, he said.
Merck said it plans a tiered pricing approach based on country income criteria. The U.S. government has a contract to buy 1.7 million courses at a price of $700 per course.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) had said it was also in talks with Pfizer (PFE.N) and Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG (ROG.S), who are also racing to develop an easy-to-administer antiviral pill for COVID-19.
South Korean government had allocated 36.2 billion won ($30.31 million) in budget for oral antiviral pills to cure COVID-19. It has been managing its mortality rate – 0.78% as of Tuesday – and critical cases at a fairly low rate.
($1 = 1,194.2300 won)
Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore