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Merck Stock Gains as U.K. Regulators Approve COVID-19 Antiviral Pill

Merck shares trade higher after U.K. regulators grant approval for molnupiravir, marking the first authorization of an oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

Merck  (MRK) - Get Merck & Co., Inc. Report shares traded higher Thursday after U.K. regulators granted approval for the U.S. drug giant’s experimental drug molnupiravir, marking the first authorization from a public health body for an oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

Merck shares were up 0.94% $89.51 after the U.K. Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency granted authorization for the drug under the trademark Lagevrio for mild-to-moderate COVID symptoms.

Officials say the drug has significant potential to fight the nearly two-year-strong COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among less-affluent countries that have trouble obtaining, storing and administering vaccines. 

“We will continue to move with both rigor and urgency to bring molnupiravir to patients around the world as quickly as possible,” Merck President Robert M. Davis said in a statement.

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The company has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization, while the European Medicines Agency has launched a rolling review of the oral antiviral medicine. Merck said it is also working to submit applications to other regulatory agencies.

The company said it expects to produce 10 million courses of the treatment by the end of this year and at least 20 million in 2022. Merck said it will adopt a “tiered pricing approach” that takes into account each country’s ability to pay for the drug.

Last week Merck said it expects molnupiravir to generate up to $7 billion in global revenue by the end of next year.

So far, the only treatments approved for mild to moderate COVID-19-related symptoms are expensive monoclonal antibodies developed by Regeneron  (REGN) - Get Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Report, Eli Lilly  (LLY) - Get Eli Lilly and Company Report  and GlaxoSmithKline  (GSK) - Get GlaxoSmithKline Plc Report, which are typically given via intravenous infusions.