US drug giant Merck drops out the COVID-19 vaccine race, after its 2 vaccine candidates failed to generate a strong immune response
- US pharmaceutical giant
Mercksaid Monday that it has stopped developing two potential COVID-19 vaccines.
- The vaccines were well tolerated in clinical trials, but failed to produce an adequate immune response.
- The company said it will focus resources on two experimental treatments for COVID-19 instead.
US pharma giant Merck has scrapped two coronavirus
The vaccines were generally well tolerated, but worked less well than existing COVID-19 vaccines and immunity from catching the virus, Merck said in the press release.
The results were "disappointing, and a bit of a surprise," Nick Kartsonis, senior vice president of clinical research for infectious diseases and vaccines at Merck Research Laboratories, told Bloomberg.
The studies haven't yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal to be scrutinized.
Merck said it would now focus on advancing two experimental treatments for COVID-19 that are in late stage development.
"In the world of pharmaceutical development, a quick kill is not a bad thing because it allows you to reposition and repurpose your assets," Kartsonis told the Wall Street Journal.
Merck is a $190-billion company, with one of the largest vaccine businesses in the world. It entered the vaccine race in May 2020, hoping to build on its success developing the first US-approved Ebola vaccine.
V590, one of Merck's COVID-19 shots, mimicked technology from the Ebola shot, using a weakened virus to trigger the immune response. Its other experimental shot, V591, was based on a measles vaccine.
Both COVID-19 candidates would have been single shots. Merck and IAVI, the vaccine co-developer for V590, had said they would make it affordable and accessible globally.
Merck's approach to vaccine development was different to Moderna's and Pfizer's, the companies that have two-dose vaccines currently authorized in the US, who utilized mRNA technology - a genetic code that triggers the immune system.
Merck said it anticipated trial results for its novel COVID-19 drugs in the coming weeks, and could ask US regulators to fast-track emergency authorization if results are positive.
Kartosonis said that one of the experimental treatments, MK-7110, could reach sick patients by the middle of the year. The US government under President Donald Trump agreed to pay Merck up to $365 million for 60,000 to 100,000 doses of MK-7110 until June 30.
Having effective COVID-19 treatments remains important, especially as new variants emerge that may be able to thwart vaccines, Kartsonis said.
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