Merck ready to deploy tens of millions of its Covid antiviral pills if regulators approve, CEO says

Merck CEO Robert Davis told CNBC on Thursday the drugmaker is ready to produce and distribute tens of millions of doses of its Covid antiviral pills if given regulatory approval.

“Right now, we’re on pace to have 10 million courses ready before the end of this year, and more than double that next year,” Merck CEO Robert Davis told “Squawk Box.”

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is scheduled to the evaluate safety and efficacy data of the pill, known as molnupiravir, on Nov. 30 and decide whether or not to approve it for emergency use authorization in the U.S. Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutic said that internal data indicated that the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid was cut in half by molnupiravir. Patients take four pills twice a day for five days.

“I can tell you through the data we’ve seen and the studies we’ve done, we think this is a safe drug,” Davis said.

If approved, molnupiravir would be the first approved Covid treatment in pill form, and it would also help diversify the company’s appeal to investors, which have been weary of Merck’s overdependence on its cancer drug, Keytruda, for business growth. Merck also recently acquired biopharm company Acceleron to expand its cardiovascular pipeline.

Merck entered an agreement with a United Nations-backed group to help produce the Covid antiviral pill across the world. The agreement would allow molnupiravir to be produced by qualified pharmaceutical companies around the world to address health inequities highlighted by vaccine distribution. Merck will receive no royalties from sales of the pill as long at Covid remains classified as a public health emergency by the World Health Organization.

Globally, there have been more than 244 million confirmed cases of Covid since the start of the pandemic, and 4.9 million deaths, according to WHO data.

Davis said he sees lots of opportunity in the future for Merck. “We’re excited about our pipeline, we’re excited about our ability to grow … we frankly continue to believe our growth through 2024 is underappreciated so I think there’s more opportunity for this stock,” he added.

Merck beat Wall Street expectations with quarterly results, and its stock was up roughly 2% in Thursday’s premarket. The company earned an adjusted $1.75 per share in the third quarter on revenue of $13.1 billion. Merck raised its full-year outlook.

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