Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics say Japan will buy 1.6 million courses of their anti-viral COVID if cleared

Merck MRK,
+ 0.19%
and privately-held Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said Wednesday that the Japanese government has agreed to purchase $ 1.6 million worth of coursework for their COVID-19 antiviral molnupiravir, once it receives clearance or approval. Merck and Ridgeback have applied for approval for the treatment from the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Japan Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency, and the European Medicines Agency. Molnupiravir is already approved in the UK for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults who have tested positive for the disease and who have at least one risk factor for developing serious disease. The companies said data from a clinical trial showed the drug can reduce the risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 infection by 50%. The drug is expected to be a game-changer in the pandemic as it can be easily administered at home in capsule form, while existing treatments must be given by intravenous or subcutaneous infusion or are reserved for the sickest patients in the hospital. Merck shares were slightly lower pre-market but are up 6% year-to-date, while the S&P 500 SPX,
gained 25%.