Merck CEO Casts Doubt On ‘Very Aggressive’ Covid-19 Vaccine Timeline

Henrietta Strickland
May 30, 2020

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.

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.

Designed and engineered by IAVI scientists in NY, the vaccine candidate for Covid-19 is in preclinical development.

Rights to EIDD-2801, an oral antiviral candidate in early clinical development, bought from Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP and discovered at Emory University.

They use eight different types of technologies - known as "platforms" in the vaccine development world - which offer various advantages and disadvantages. The Austrian vaccine manufacturer proposed a drug candidate earlier this year as the potential cure for COVID-19.

The company has previously said it is trying to identify internal resources and contract manufacturers that would enable it to produce 1 billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine that newly-acquired Themis is on the cusp of clinical trials, while the vaccine being developed with IAVI is set to enter clinical studies later this year. They are partnering to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. The company is already manufacturing doses of the vaccine in France for clinical trials. The vaccine candidate uses the recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology that was used for Merck's Ebola Zaire virus vaccine, ERVEBO.

The acquisition is expected to advance the development of Themis' vaccine candidate, which is now in preclinical development, and scheduled for clinical trials later in 2020.

Merck also said that it will be collaborating with IAVI. "No one country can solve it, and we can't put borders around any one country", Frazier said in a phone interview.

Merck has also signed an agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, to provide initial funding support for this effort. If successful, Merck and IAVI said they will make it affordable and accessible globally.

Merck shares gained more than 1% in early trading, as the broader USA stock market jumped.

Ridgeback's drug that it calls EIDD-2801 has shown promising results in animal studies.

It inhibits the same viral enzyme - RNA-dependent RNA polymerase - as Gilead Sciences' remdesivir, which is now leading the pack of potential coronavirus therapies with early access approvals in the US, Japan and UK. "We understand the urgency, but our goal isn't to be the frontrunner in the early stages - it's to develop a vaccine that is safe and effective" Frasier told the Financial Times. The drug disabled multiple coronaviruses from reproducing while boasting high tolerance and safety.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announced last week that Merck's vaccine, as well as vaccine candidates from Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are running about a month, possibly two months, before Moderna's, but may be included in large efficacy trials this summer.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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