Deputy Health Minister Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali has revealed that the Ministry of Health (MoH) will be readjusting its purchase of the molnupiravir COVID-19 antiviral pill from Merck & Co as it intends to procure new treatments from AstraZeneca and Pfizer, using a total allocation of RM172 million.
The ministry had previously announced that it had signed a letter of commitment to purchase 150,000 courses of Merck’s molnupiravir but Azmi said that, at the time, it was the only drug announced by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency as an antiviral, specifically for the treatment of COVID-19.
Pfizer recently released clinical trial results of its combination COVID-19 treatment called Paxlovid, which was found to be 89% effective at preventing severe symptoms or death from the virus, much higher than molnupiravir’s 50% rate. While it hasn’t been approved in any country yet, it has submitted an application for emergency approval to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with countries like the US, the UK, and Australia already planning to procure the treatment in bulk.
AstraZeneca also released clinical trial data of its monoclonal antibody COVID-19 treatment called Evusheld, and uses a combination of the drugs tixagevimab and cilgavimab. The antibody cocktail was found to reduce the risk of severe symptoms and death by 77% over three months and 83% over six months, with the effectiveness going up to 88% if given within three days of infection. Both drugs are given in one go sequentially as injections into the arm.
The Deputy Health Minister did not specify how many treatments from Pfizer and AstraZeneca will be purchased. He also did not elaborate as to what extent the agreement with Merck will be affected by this readjustment.