Af­ter purg­ing its own can­di­dates, Mer­ck says it's ready to as­sist in Covid-19 vac­cine pro­duc­tion

Days af­ter quash­ing high hopes of a late but re­li­able ad­di­tion to the glob­al Covid-19 vac­cine menu, Mer­ck is search­ing for a way back to the ac­tion.

Hav­ing pi­o­neered im­por­tant im­mu­niza­tions in pub­lic health emer­gen­cies over the decades — de­vel­op­ing shots for mumps, chick­en pox and more re­cent­ly Ebo­la — Mer­ck ex­ecs now say they are will­ing to open up their in­fra­struc­ture in ser­vice of vac­cines de­vel­oped by bio­phar­ma ri­vals.

Where­as the phar­ma gi­ant has pre­vi­ous­ly stat­ed it would fo­cus on the Covid-19 treat­ments in de­vel­op­ment, the move would shift their siz­able vac­cine busi­ness back in­to pan­dem­ic gear.

Michael Nal­ly

“We are in reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tion with gov­ern­ments, we’re in reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions with the pub­lic health au­thor­i­ties, with the fore­most ex­perts on all this,” Michael Nal­ly, chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer, told the New York Times.

They are not alone in play­ing that sup­port­ing role: Bay­er, Sanofi, Glax­o­SmithK­line, No­var­tis and the Ger­man Mer­ck have all jumped in, with sev­er­al al­ready sealed deals. On Wednes­day Te­va, the Is­raeli gener­ics gi­ant, said it’s al­so ex­plor­ing ways to help.

One of the things it can as­sist on may be the pro­duc­tion of au­tho­rized vac­cines, a com­pa­ny spokesper­son told Reuters.

Mer­ck had joined the hunt for vac­cines sig­nif­i­cant­ly lat­er than the pack — long af­ter the fron­trun­ners, Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech and Mod­er­na, have start­ed clin­i­cal tri­als along­side five oth­ers — but sci­en­tists were op­ti­mistic that with its ex­pe­ri­ence, ca­pac­i­ty and re­sources, it can come up with op­tions that can serve the whole world in the long haul. With as­pi­ra­tions in a one-dose ap­proach, it looked far and wide for ideas, buy­ing in­to two dis­tinct tech plat­forms through a li­cense from IAVI and a buy­out of Themis as well as bet­ting on oral and patch de­liv­ery. It even start­ed man­u­fac­tur­ing some dos­es at risk.

But in late Jan­u­ary, it de­cid­ed to scrap both vac­cines — V590 and V591 — af­ter tak­ing a look at Phase I da­ta that sim­ply didn’t mea­sure up to ei­ther the nat­ur­al im­mune re­sponse seen in peo­ple ex­posed to the virus or the vac­cines al­ready on or near the mar­ket.

The com­pa­ny didn’t de­tail how ex­act­ly it may con­tribute to cur­rent vac­cines pro­duc­tion, and any boost it can of­fer like­ly won’t trans­late to re­al dif­fer­ences un­til lat­er this year. Its fac­to­ries have the ca­pac­i­ty, though, for a range of vac­cine tech­nolo­gies as well as the fill-and-fin­ish step.

Be­yond that, Nal­ly added, Mer­ck hopes to help gov­ern­ments think through the com­plex­i­ty of de­vel­op­ing vac­cines for the mass­es and “pre­pare the world for what we see on the hori­zon” with emerg­ing vari­ants and un­knowns about the dura­bil­i­ty of pro­tec­tion.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Tom Barnes (Orna)

The mR­NA era is here. MPM be­lieves the fu­ture be­longs to oR­NA — and Big Phar­ma wants a seat at the ta­ble

If the ultra-fast clinical development of Covid-19 vaccines opened the world’s eyes to the promises of messenger RNA, the subsequent delays in supply offered a crash course on the ultra-complex process of producing them. Even before the formulation and fill-finish steps, mRNA is the precious end product from an arduous journey involving enzyme-aided transcription, modification and purification.

For Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Gilead’s Kite and Astellas, it’s time to rethink the way therapeutic RNA is engineered.

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Glax­o­SmithK­line re­thinks strat­e­gy for Covid-19 an­ti­body — not the Vir ones — af­ter tri­al flop. Is there hope in high-risk pa­tients?

In the search for a better Covid-19 therapeutic, GlaxoSmithKline and Vir have partnered up on two antibodies they hope have a chance. GSK is also testing its own in-house antibody, and early results may have shut the door on its widespread use.

A combination of GSK’s monoclonal antibody otilimab plus standard of care couldn’t best standard of care alone in preventing death and respiratory failure in hospitalized Covid-19 patients after 28 days, according to data from the Phase IIa OSCAR study unveiled Thursday.

Re­gen­eron halts place­bo en­roll­ment in Covid-19 cock­tail tri­al af­ter IDMC finds 'clear' ef­fi­ca­cy — but there are no da­ta yet

Despite having already received an emergency use authorization for its Covid-19 antibody in non-hospitalized patients last November, Regeneron continued to conduct trials to evaluate the cocktail’s effectiveness. Now, the big biotech has received some good news from their IDMC.

On the IDMC’s recommendation, Regeneron will be shutting down enrollment in the placebo group of a Phase III outpatient trial for their REGN-COV program — a mix of casirivimab with imdevimab — after investigators found “clear clinical efficacy” in both doses compared to the control, the company announced Thursday. CSO George Yancopoulos also said in a statement that the cocktail can neutralize emerging strains of the novel coronavirus.

S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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