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News24.com | France Cancels Order for Merck’s Covid-19 Antiviral Drug

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Molnupiravir, the antiviral COVID-19 pill from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

Merck

France is the first country to publicly say it has cancelled an order for the Merck treatment.
The company released results in November showing the drug molnupiravir was less effective than previously thought. 
France has instead bought Pfizer’s competing antiviral drug, Paxlovid.

France has cancelled its order for Merck & Co’s Covid-19 antiviral drug following disappointing trial data and hopes instead to receive Pfizer’s competing drug before the end of January, the health minister said on Wednesday.

France is the first country to publicly say it has cancelled an order for the Merck treatment after the company released data in late November suggesting its drug was markedly less effective than previously thought, reducing hospitalisations and deaths in its clinical trial of high-risk people by about 30%.

“The latest studies weren’t good,” Olivier Veran told BFM TV.

Merck did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

While vaccines are the primary weapons against Covid-19 for governments, there are hopes Merck and Pfizer’s experimental pills could be a game-changer in reducing the chances of dying or hospitalisation for those most at risk of severe illness.

France had placed an early order for 50 000 doses of the drug molnupiravir developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

READ | Injection or pill? Phase 1 of oral Covid-19 vaccine study kicks off in South Africa

The cancellation would not incur a cost, Veran said.

In Italy, the special commissioner’s office for the Covid-19 emergency said on November 18 it had received a mandate from the health ministry to buy 50 000 courses of Merck’s pill and another 50 000 of Pfizer’s one. “The contract has not yet been finalised but is in progress,” a spokesperson for the commissioner told Reuters on Tuesday.

Italian drug regulator Aifa’s head Nicola Magrini told a Senate committee on December 9 the two treatments could be available in Italy from the end of January.

However, regardless of the availability of the drugs, there will be assessments of their use, two top government scientific advisers told Reuters.

“There must and will be an evaluation, independently of the assessments of regulatory bodies,” Walter Ricciardi, top adviser of health minister Roberto Speranza, told Reuters.

On Wednesday, Germany has already bought Merck’s antiviral treatment, health minister Karl Lauterbach told Reuters.

“This is a binding order,” he said, adding Berlin was also in talks with Pfizer about buying its antiviral drug.

READ | Pfizer says its oral Covid-19 pill can help prevent severe infection from the Omicron variant

The European Medicines Agency is expected to decide whether to approve the Merck and Pfizer pills in the new year.

Pfizer’s Paxlovid has shown near 90% efficacy in preventing Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths in high-risk patients.

France had purchased that drug instead, Veran said, without saying how many doses it had secured.

“France is lined up to get it before the end of January,” Veran continued. The minister said it has not yet been decided whether the drug would be available over the counter in pharmacies.

If you come across Covid-19 vaccination information that you do not trust, read Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked: Get the facts here. If you can’t find the facts you’re looking for, email us at the address mentioned in the article and we will verify the information with medical professionals.

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News24.com | Thousands Protest in Madrid Against NATO Summit

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A crowd demonstrates against NATO.

Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto

Carrying the hammer and sickle flags of the former Soviet Union, thousands protested in Madrid on Sunday against a NATO summit which will take place in the Spanish capital next week.

Amid tight security, leaders of the member countries will meet in Madrid between 29-30 June as the organisation faces the unprecedented challenge of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NATO is expected to consider the bid, opposed by alliance-member Turkey, for Finland and Sweden to join.

The Nordic nations applied in the wake of the Russian assault on Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the war a special military operation he says in part responds to the accession to NATO of other countries near post-Soviet Russia’s borders since the 1990s.

READ | Biden said Putin’s goal of weakening NATO by invading Ukraine backfired spectacularly

“Tanks yes, but of beer with tapas,” sang demonstrators, who claimed an increase in defence spending in Europe urged by NATO was a threat to peace.

“I am fed up (with) this business of arms and killing people. The solution they propose is more arms and wars and we always pay for it. So, no NATO, no (army) bases, let the Americans go and leave us alone without wars and weapons,” said Concha Hoyos, a retired Madrid resident, told Reuters.

Another protester, Jaled, 29, said NATO was not the solution to the war in Ukraine.

Organisers claimed 5,000 people joined the march, but authorities in Madrid put the number at 2 200.

READ | Pandor says Finland’s bid to join NATO indicates a decline in international security

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday that the summit would also focus on the threat from Europe’s southern flank in Africa, in which he said Russia posed a threat to Europe.

“The foreign ministers’ dinner on the 29th will be centred on the southern flank,” he told El Pais newspaper.

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News24.com | Turkey Police Break up Istanbul Pride March, Detain Dozens: AFP

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Hakan Akgun/dia images

Turkish police on Sunday forcibly intervened in a Pride march in Istanbul, detaining dozens of demonstrators and an AFP photographer, AFP journalists on the ground said.

The governor’s office had banned the march around Taksim square in the heart of Istanbul but protesters gathered nearby under heavy police presence earlier than scheduled.

Police detained protesters, loading them into buses. AFP journalists saw two buses of people who had been held, including AFP’s chief photographer Bulent Kilic, who had been handcuffed from the back.

Kilic, who was also detained last year during the Pride march, is currently in police custody.

Hundreds of protesters carrying rainbow flags pressed ahead with the rally in defiance of police.

Although homosexuality has been legal throughout the period of the modern Turkish republic, LGBTQ individuals point to regular harassment and abuse.

Istanbul Pride has taken place every year since 2003.

The last march which took place without a ban – in 2014 – drew tens of thousands of participants in one of the biggest LGBTQ events in the majority Muslim region.

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News24.com | NASA Blasts Off From Australian Outback in ‘historic’ Launch

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NASA’s first-ever launch from a commercial site outside of the United States blasted off from Australia’s Outback late Sunday, in a “historic” moment for the country’s space industry.

In the first of three planned launches from the Arnhem Space Centre, the rocket, carrying technology likened to a “mini Hubble” telescope, lifted off — blasted about 350 kilometres (218 miles) into the night sky.

“It is a momentous occasion for us as a company in particular, but it’s historic for Australia,” Equatorial Launch Australia CEO Michael Jones told AFP ahead of the lift-off.

Jones, whose company owns and operates the launch site in the far north of Australia, described it as a “coming out” party for the country’s space industry and said the chance to work with NASA was a milestone for commercial space firms in the country.

After a series of rain and wind delays, the suborbital sounding rocket soared into the sky to study x-rays emanating from the Alpha Centauri A and B systems.

After reaching its apogee, the rocket’s payload was to capture data on the star systems before parachuting back to earth.

READ | NASA is slowly powering down the Voyager probes. Here are 18 photos from its 45-year mission.

According to NASA, the launch offers a unique glimpse of the distant systems and unlocked fresh possibilities for scientists.

“We’re excited to be able to launch important science missions from the Southern Hemisphere and see targets that we can’t from the United States,” Nicky Fox, NASA’s Heliophysics Division director in Washington, said on announcing the mission.

Jones said the unique location had made preparations hard, with years of work to get regulatory approval and the need to haul rockets on barges to the launch site – about 28 hours drive from Darwin in northern Australia.

“I think for the team, it’s gonna be, you know, a huge relief that it’s done,” he said.

READ | ‘Giant leap forward’ – South Korea space rocket launch puts satellites in orbit

But with the next launch already looming on July 4, the break would be short-lived.

“We need to, you know, dust ourselves off, take a day off and then get back into it in readiness for the next launch because it’s just as important.”

It is the first NASA rocket to launch from Australia since 1995, and the project was hailed as the start of a “new era” for the country’s space industry by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

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