Merck jumps into COVID-19 vaccine race

Henrietta Strickland
May 28, 2020

As per the sources, Themis is using a modified measles virus to develop a vaccine that can deliver chunks of SARS-CoV-2 into the human body to potentially prevent COVID-19. Originally developed at the Institut Pasteur, the technology platform was first licensed to Themis in 2010.

USA drugmaker Merck & Co on Tuesday said that it is collaborating with nonprofit scientific research organization IAVI to develop two separate vaccines to treat the novel coronavirus.

The measles virus vector-based vaccine has already received backing from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and is due to start clinical trials before the end of the year.

This program is part of a long-standing effort to develop rVSV vaccines for HIV as well as other emerging infectious diseases such as Lassa fever, Marburg, and Ebola Sudan disease, under the leadership of Dr. Swati Gupta, head of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Scientific Strategy, IAVI. Merck's shares rallied 3 per cent in premarket following the news.

However, Merck had yet to disclose the financial terms of its Themis Bioscience buyout deal.

"Merck and IAVI are eager to combine our respective strengths to accelerate development of an rVSV vaccine candidate, with the goal of blunting the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic", said Merck Research Labs president, Dr. Roger Perlmutter.

The company indicates it plans to begin human clinical trials with the vaccine sometime this year. The company highlighted three programs - two vaccine efforts and one experimental antiviral pill.

"I hope the people who are predicting a faster timeline than we have ever imagined are right, but we are talking about vaccinating the world, not just people in a given developed country", she said during a discussion Tuesday hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota.

Merck said it hoped to start clinical studies later this year and if the vaccine is successful, it would be made available worldwide at an affordable price. It has received financial support from the U.S. government's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). Merck will lead regulatory filings globally.

A new collaboration announced it will leverage complementary capabilities with rVSV technology to rapidly develop a SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus prevention vaccine.

Themis has a pipeline of vaccine candidates and immune-modulatory therapies that it has built using its measles virus vector platform.

The company, which over the past century has pioneered inoculations to stop diseases from diphtheria to Ebola, started researching ways to thwart Covid-19 after it was discovered and has evaluated hundreds of potential vaccines, Frazier said.

Merck also said it is buying Themis, a private biotech company working on vaccines.

The company indicates it is similar to Gilead Sciences' remdesivir, which has emergency use authorization for COVID-19, but can be taken as a pill, rather than as a transfusion. It has also been shown to be safe and well-tolerated in early stage trials. The drug disabled multiple coronaviruses from reproducing while boasting high tolerance and safety.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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