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.
“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.
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