The US government will purchase another $1 billion in COVID-19 pills from Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the firms announced on Tuesday.

The government committed to purchasing 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir for $1.2 billion in June and is currently exercising options to purchase an additional 1.4 million.

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This raises the overall number of secured courses to 3.1 million, with a total value of $2.2 billion. Merck stated that as part of the contract, the government has the option to purchase an additional 2 million courses.

The medicine has been keenly monitored since research released last month showed that if taken early in the illness, it could cut the likelihood of dying or being hospitalized among individuals most at risk of developing severe COVID-19 by half.

"Molnupiravir, if authorized, will be among the vaccines and medicines available to fight COVID-19 as part of our collective efforts to bring this pandemic to an end," said Frank Clyburn, president of Merck's human health business.

Merck's FDA application will be reviewed by a panel of independent specialists on November 30, after which the authority is expected to make a decision.

Several countries have hastened to negotiate partnerships with Merck for the medicine, which might become the first COVID-19 oral antiviral treatment. Last week, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to approve the use of the capsules.

Merck anticipates producing 10 million courses of the treatment by the end of this year, with at least 20 million produced by 2022.

According to the firms, the US government has the option to purchase more than 2 million extra courses under the arrangement.

Merck's stock was up 1.5 % in premarket trade.