U.S. 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. In order to develop the two vaccines, Merck said that it would be buying Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience. Merck also announced a partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to develop an experimental oral antiviral drug against coronavirus.
Merck is the latest pharmaceutical giant to join the race to develop a vaccine to treat COVID-19. The drugmaker so long had kept to the sidelines of the fight to develop a vaccine to treat the deadly coronavirus. Merck's shares rallied 3 per cent in premarket following the news. The race to develop a vaccine to treat coronavirus continues with experts believing that it could take 12-18 months to taste find one.
Merck to Use Ebola Vaccine Technology
Merck on Tuesday said that it will develop two separate vaccines candidates with the two partnerships. Both vaccines will be designed to be delivered in single dose. The first vaccine will be developed with the help of technology it will get from acquiring Themis Biosciences. However, Merck didn't disclose the terms of the acquisition of Themis, a privately held company.
The Themis vaccine will be developed in collaboration with Institut Pasteur in Paris. The vaccine will be developed be based on a modified measles virus that delivers shades of SARS-COV-2 into the body as protection from Covid-19. The company said that it has made substantial progress with the vaccine candidate and expects to start vaccinating volunteers "within weeks."
The other vaccine being developed in partnership with IAVI would use the recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus technology. The technology is the basis for Merck's Ebola Zaire virus vaccine. It was the first rVSV vaccine approved for use in humans. This vaccine candidate, which is being developed by IAVI scientists in New York, is in preclinical stage. Clinical studies are expected to start this year itself.
Covid-19 Vaccine Race Heats Up
A number of biotechnology companies and drugmakers are working on experimental vaccines to treat Covid-19. Merck's announcement to develop comes at a time when pharmaceutical companies across the world are halting other clinical trials and are scrambling to find an antidote for Covid-19, which has infected more than 5.5 million people worldwide.
A day earlier U.S. President Donald Trump voiced his ambitions for a vaccine to treat Covid-19 to reach the market by 2020, in a project called 'Operation Warp Speed'. However, experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert, have said that Trump is being over ambitious.
Medical experts believe that it could take 12 to 18 months to roll out a safe vaccine to the market. That said, both the vaccines Merck is developing is being done using technologies that have resulted in licensed products, unlike many frontrunners. Moreover, Merck said that doses of the Themis vaccine are being made in France for clinical trials. Also it plans to begin early production of the vaccine it is developing with IAVI at its plant in Pennsylvania.