Medical Technology

Japan Health Panel approves Merck’s Oral COVID-19 Therapy

TOKYO (Reuters – A Japanese panel of health ministers recommended the approval of the COVID-19 antiviral medication created by Merck & Co Inc. on December 24 as part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishhida’s plans to launch new treatments before the end of the year, as Omicron variant concerns increase.

Based on preparations made earlier by Kishida, the panel decision will send 200,000 doses across the country starting this weekend.

Japan is betting heavily on oral therapies to keep serious infections and deaths at bay should a sixth wave of the pandemic emerge. The government last month agreed to pay Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics about $1.2 billion for 1.6 million doses of their drug Molnupiravir.

In addition, Kishida announced last week an agreement to purchase 2 million doses of a different antiviral medication developed by Pfizer Inc. And Japan’s Shionogi & Co is expected to soon submit a request for approval of its own treatment, and supply additional 1 million doses before the beginning of next year.

The Merck pill was approved by U.S. regulators for certain high-risk adult patients on Thursday

After promising initial results, nations were eager to buy Molnupiravir by Merck. However, in November, company data revealed that the drug was significantly less effective than originally thought.

Japan this week confirmed the first cases of Omicron infections that cannot be traced to overseas travelers. The infection has been confirmed in Osaka and Kyoto and an alleged case was reported in Tokyo on Friday.

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