By Michael Erman
NEW YORK, May 12 (Reuters) - Several generic drugmakers that will produce versions of Pfizer's COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid have agreed to sell the medicine in low- and middle-income countries for $25 a course or less, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) said on Thursday.
CHAI said it could not disclose the names of the manufacturers who have agreed to the price ceiling, because they are still in the early stage of product development and have not received regulatory approval.
In March, 35 generic drugmakers around the world signed on to make cheap versions of Pfizer's pills for 95 poorer countries through a licensing arrangement with the U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP).
Pfizer sells Paxlovid to the U.S. government for about $530 for a five-day course.
CHAI said the generic drugmakers would dedicate capacity for 4.5 million treatment courses a month for these countries. It said the $25 price ceiling would apply only if there is demand from the poorer countries for at least 1 million treatment courses a year.
In order to guarantee the price, orders need to be for at least 50,000 courses, it said.
The Clinton Health Access Initiative said it also plans to work with donors and governments to raise funds for an advance purchase agreement for the product to meet country needs.
Paxlovid has become an important tool in the fight against COVID-19. In a clinical trial, it reduced hospitalizations in high-risk patients by around 90% when taken for five days shortly after symptoms begin.
The results were significantly better than for Merck & Co's rival antiviral pill molnupiravir in its clinical trial.
Still, as Paxlovid has become more widely used, some patients have reported a recurrence of COVID-19 symptoms after completing the treatment and experiencing improvement.
A generic course of molnupiravir is expected to cost about $20 in poorer nations, compared with the roughly $700 per course Merck is charging the United States. (Reporting by Michael Erman Editing by Bill Berkrot)