New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world to secure a deal for the new Covid-19 treatment molnupiravir.
Pharmac and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the agreement this morning. Pharmac says the oral antiviral drug would be used to treat New Zealanders with mild to moderate Covid-19 symptoms.
The agreement with supplier Merck Sharp & Dohme is subject to the drug being approved by Medsafe.
An initial supply of 60,000 courses will be sent to New Zealand after Medsafe approves the drug, Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt says in a statement.
"MSD recently announced trial results showing that molnupiravir considerably reduced hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19. While these are interim results, they are very promising," Fitt says.
Ardern says New Zealand is among the first countries in the world to sign an advanced purchase agreement for the drug.
"Antiviral medicines are an additional tool the government is adding to our toolbox to fight Covid-19," Ardern says.
"The most important thing people can do to prevent themselves, children and vulnerable people getting Covid is to get vaccinated. However it's important we have medicines to help those who pick up the virus to avoid having to go to hospital.
"We are continuing to use a stamp it out strategy. But this purchase of 60,000 courses is based on the same population basis as the likes of Australia and Singapore, and is not an assumption about the level of Covid we may have in the future."
Australia's government announced last week it had purchased 300,000 courses of the drug.
Ardern says it's thanks to the "speed and hard work" of Pharmac's team that New Zealand is able to secure the treatment so quickly.
Fitt says Pharmac is proactively engaging global pharmaceutical companies to secure access to treatments.
"We have changed the way we operate, using separate funding allocated by government, to make sure that New Zealand can access new Covid-19 treatments," she says.
"Covid-19 is a unique health crisis and for this reason we are doing things differently."
Pharmac is working on securing other Covid-19 treatments, Fitt says.
Ardern says she's hopeful there will be further announcements soon as Pharmac's negotiations conclude.