France says it’s canceled Merck COVID-19 antiviral treatment order

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France’s health minister said on Wednesday that the country had canceled its 50,000-dose order of Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral drug after clinical trial data released by the company in November showed that the treatment reduced hospitalizations and deaths less than previously expected, Reuters reported.

Speaking to French news outlet BFM TV, the country’s health minister, Olivier Véran, said that “the latest studies weren’t good” and that the country hoped by the end of January to get Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral treatment instead, according to Reuters.

No costs will be incurred due to the cancellation, according to Véran, per the wire service.

France is the first country to publicly say it is withdrawing its order from Merck, Reuters noted.

Earlier this month, the French health authority decided not to authorize the medication, and the planned purchase did not occur, a Merck spokesperson told the wire service. But the company said 12 countries are already receiving shipments of its drug, with shipments to be made to more 30 countries in total.

The data released in late November lowered expectations for the effectiveness of the COVID-19 antiviral treatment Merck developed alongside Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, called molnupiravir. 

While earlier data released by Merck had suggested the treatment reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 50 percent, more data released last month following a clinical trial with high-risk individuals adjusted those expectations, indicating that it reduced the risk by only 30 percent. 

France’s announcement comes on the same day the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Paxlovid, which trial data indicated lowered the risk of hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk patients by 89 percent.

Bloomberg reported earlier this week that both Merck’s molnupiravir and Pfizer’s Paxlovid are expected to be authorized by the FDA this week. Late last month, FDA advisers narrowly voted to recommend Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral drug for use in adults infected with COVID-19 who are at a high risk of severe illness, hospitalization or death.

The Hill has reached out to Merck for comment.

Tags COVID-19 France Merck molnupiravir Olivier Véran Paxlovid Pfizer

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