Merck is partnering with a pharmaceutical company in Ontario to make its oral COVID-19 antiviral pill in Canada.
Merck, the maker of molnupiravir — which is still under Health Canada review — announced Monday it has reached an agreement with Thermo Fisher Scientific in Whitby to manufacturer its treatment.
Marwan Akar, president and managing director with Merck Canada Inc., told reporters at a news conference that Thermo Fisher has been making molnupiravir for distribution in Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as for European, Asian Pacific and Latin American countries, pending approvals in those regions.
Akar said the facility in Whitby is “up and running,” and that Merck is doing “everything we can” to supply countries with molnupiravir.
“The inventory is there and it’s ready to be shipped once we have approval,” he said. “We will continue to manufacture for future supply as well.”
Merck’s announcement comes on the heels of the federal government’s recent agreement with the company to purchase 500,000 courses of its molnupiravir treatment, with an option to add 500,000 more pending approval.
The federal government has also announced a deal with Pfizer to purchase one million courses of its oral antiviral treatment, PF-07321332, pending Health Canada approval.
“As soon as these drugs are authorized for use, the government will work on getting them to provinces and territories as quickly as possible so that health-care providers can help Canadians who need them most,” Filomena Tassi, Canada’s minister of public services and procurement, said Friday.
Merck’s pill is still under review by Health Canada as the company continues its rolling submission.
Recently, Merck shared data suggesting its drug was significantly less effective than previously thought, reducing hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk individuals by around 30 per cent.
The treatment has received approval in the United Kingdom.
Cardiologist and epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos previously told Global News that antiviral pills could potentially limit the strain of COVID-19 on Canada’s health-care system by reducing the effects of the virus, but they don’t “prevent the problem.”
“It just treats the problem,” he said. “In terms of preventing outbreaks, vaccines are clearly the better course of action.”
Throughout the pandemic, the federal government has been trying to beef up its domestic production capabilities to help battle COVID-19.
Earlier this year, the government announced agreements with Moderna and Novavax to produce COVID-19 vaccines in Canada. Moderna is planning to build its own plant in Canada by 2024, and the federal government has promised $126 million for a new National Research Council to build a biologics production plant in Montreal to produce a vaccine for Novavax.
François-Philippe Champagne, minister of innovation, science and industry, said Monday that the investments will improve Canada’s pandemic response.
“We didn’t choose the timing of this pandemic, we won’t choose when the next one happens but we can choose and we are choosing as Canadians to be ready for whatever may come next,” he said. “We are on-shoring manufacturing, we’re increasing the ecosystem and we’re bringing investment in Canada.”
Omar Khan, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Toronto, told Global News that Canada has the talent to produce medicine, like Merck’s pill, to combat COVID-19.
“(With) this being recognized, it makes it a great place to manufacture this,” he said. “It’s also wonderful for Canada to take another step forward in terms of providing care and options for the treatment of this disease here at home, so it’s going to be very important as we go forward just because we’re adding to the solution.”
— with files from Reuters and Global News’ Eric Stober