Merck Canada announced Monday it plans to manufacture its oral antiviral COVID-19 drug in Canada, making the country a global hub for the production of the potentially game-changing treatment.
The drug company has invested $19 million to scale up production of its antiviral drug, molnupiravir, at Thermo Fisher Scientific’s facility in Whitby, Ont.
The drug — one of the first treatments for non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients — is currently pending Health Canada approval. The antiviral works by blocking the enzyme essential for viral replication.
In its preliminary clinical trial results, Merck reported that its pill reduced the rate of hospitalization by 50 per cent, compared to those who got a placebo pill. That was among patients who started taking the medication within five days of symptoms beginning.
But in an updated news release issued on Nov. 26, Merck said that data had come in from all participants and the relative risk reduction of hospitalization and death was actually lower, at 30 per cent.
The updated data showed nine deaths in the placebo group, and one in the group that took molnupiravir.
Last week, Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi announced Canada had signed a deal to purchase 500,000 courses of the oral antiviral drug, with the option to purchase another 500,000, if Health Canada gives it the green light.
WATCH | Production of Merck’s pill in Whitby, Ont. is another way Canada is helping fight the pandemic: