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Merck will acquire Themis Bioscience and collaborate with IAVI and Ridgeback Bio on COVID-19 vaccines and therapies.
Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, announced three significant scientific initiatives to combat COVID-19 in a May 26, 2020 press release. Merck will acquire Themis Bioscience, a company focused on vaccines and immune-modulation therapies for infectious diseases, including COVID-19; Merck will collaborate with IAVI to develop a vaccine against COVID-19; and Merck and Ridgeback Bio will collaborate to advance the development of an oral antiviral candidate for COVID-19.
“Merck has been fully committed to developing an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic since it was first recognized, and we know that success will require global collaboration among countries and companies and more,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck, in the press release. “Today, we are proud to mark the culmination of our swift, conscientious, and concerted effort to identify some of the most promising solutions to this global challenge and to put our resources to use in accelerating these efforts. We will ensure that all of these programs have the resources, attention, and focus they need and that the COVID-19 pandemic demands.”
The planned acquisition of Themis will accelerate the development of Themis’ COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which is in preclinical development, with clinical studies planned to start later in 2020. Themis’ pipeline of vaccine candidates and immune-modulatory therapies uses the company’s measles virus vector platform, on which Themis and Merck had been collaborating to develop vaccines. When the deal closes, Themis will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Merck.
The nonprofit research organization IAVI will collaborate with Merck to develop an investigational vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 using the recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology that is the basis for Merck’s Ebola Zaire virus vaccine, which was the first rVSV vaccine approved for use in humans. The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will provide initial funding support for this effort. IAVI’s vaccine candidate is in preclinical development, with clinical studies planned for later in 2020. Merck will lead regulatory filings globally.
“We believe an rVSV-based vaccine strategy represents a promising approach to combating the novel coronavirus pandemic and look forward to implementing an accelerated development program, together with Merck, to evaluate the potential of our vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2. The collaboration between Merck and IAVI represents an innovative partnership model and approach to utilize our joint capabilities in complementary and synergistic ways to address this difficult global health challenge,” said Dr. Mark Feinberg, IAVI president and CEO, in a press release.
Merck will collaborate with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to develop its EIDD-2801, an orally available antiviral candidate currently in early clinical development. Merck, through a subsidiary, will gain exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialize EIDD-2801 and related molecules. Merck will be responsible for clinical development, regulatory filings, and manufacturing.
“Clinical evaluation of EIDD-2801 in COVID-19 patients is just beginning, now that phase 1 studies have demonstrated that the compound is well-tolerated. Since preclinical studies demonstrate that EIDD-2801 has potent antiviral properties against multiple coronavirus strains including SARS-CoV-2, we are eager to advance the next phase of clinical studies as rapidly and responsibly as possible,” said Roger M. Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, in the press release.
Merck and its partners said that they would make treatments accessible and affordable globally, if approved.