(Bloomberg) -- Merck & Co. struck a deal with Chinese state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm to import and market its antiviral molnupiravir in China, in a tentative sign the country is considering more Covid-19 medicines from overseas developers.

Merck has also agreed to allow Sinopharm subsidiary China National Biotec Group to use its technology to facilitate the production, supply and commercialization of molnupiravir in China, according to a statement from the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant. 

The drug, which Merck co-developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP, has not yet been approved for use in China. The country so far has two approved oral Covid antivirals: Pfizer Inc.’s Paxlovid was approved earlier this year and remains the only foreign-developed Covid medicine in use in the country. The Chinese drug regulator later also cleared another antiviral called azvudine, developed by a domestic drugmaker. 

China Approves First Homegrown Antiviral Covid Pill

It’s not clear whether or how the deal will pave the way for molnupiravir to be cleared for use in China. The country hasn’t signed off on the the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine co-developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer despite an application from BioNTech’s Chinese partner, Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co. and calls for approval from foreign businesses and medical experts. The country has relied solely on a host of homegrown vaccines to immunize its 1.4 billion people against Covid.

(Updates with Merck comment in second paragraph)

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