- Merck & Co Inc discontinued its Covid-19 vaccine development programme following inferior results in Phase 1 clinical trials.
- The company has said it will be continuing with the development of therapeutic treatments and the research on SARS-CoV-2/Covid-19.
New Jersey-headquartered pharmaceutical giant Merck and Co. Inc (NYSE: MRK) said on Monday, 25 January, that it has terminated its Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) vaccine development programme. The decision to discontinue the vaccine programme is based on some findings from its Phase-1 clinical trials.
Vaccine programme halted
The immune responses shown by the volunteers in the Phase 1 trials were inferior as compared to the reported response for other Covid-19 vaccines, which have received approvals for emergency usage.
However, the Covid-19 vaccine candidates -- V590 and V591 -- were generally well tolerated in the studies, Merck said.
The results of Phase 1 clinical studies for the discontinued vaccine candidates are likely to be submitted by Merck and its collaborators for publication in a peer reviewed journal.
Merck has decided to record the charge due to discontinuation of Covid-19 vaccine candidates in the results of Q4 2020, the company said.
Speaking about the development, Dr. Dean Y. Li, president, Merck Research Laboratories said
the company is grateful to all the volunteers who participated in Merck’s vaccine trials and the collaborators who were working on these vaccine candidates.
Shares slip in pre-market
Following the development, Merck shares slipped a little more than 1 per cent in the pre-market trades on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.
According to the data available with NYSE, the stock of Merck & Co last closed at $80.98, down 0.25 per cent, on Friday, and has lost 1.02 per cent in the pre-market session on Monday, 25 January.
Merck & Co shares (1-month performance)
(Source: Refinitiv, Thomson Reuters)
Research and treatment development to continue
Following the unexpected discontinuation of the Merck’s Covid-19 vaccine candidates, the drugmaker has said it is aiming to focus its research strategy and production capabilities on advancing two treatments for Covid-19.
One of the two therapeutic treatments that are being developed by Merck include a medicine dedicated for hospitalised and vulnerable patients, which reduces the over-response of immune systems to the coronavirus.
The second is an antiviral medicine that is being matured with an objective of lowering the effect of SARS-CoV-2 virus. The latter has already exhibited promising results in the clinical phase of ongoing studies.
Meanwhile, Merck has said the company will be scaling up the manufacturing and advancing the clinical programmes for two of its investigational medicines, MK-7110 and MK-4482, being developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Bio. Additionally, the company will be continuing research on SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19.
Merck’s therapeutic treatments for Covid-19
The therapeutic candidate of Merck MK-7110 has emerged as more than 50 per cent effective in reducing the risk of death or a respiratory failure in hospitalised patients with moderate to severe Covid-19 infection, the interim results from a Phase 3 clinical study showed.
MK-7110 is primarily a recombinant fusion protein that targets the novel immune pathway checkpoint, modulating the inflammatory response to SARS-CoV-2 virus. On the other hand, MK-4482 is currently under investigation in Phase 2/3 clinical studies in both out-patient departments as well as in the hospital.
Merck is planning to release the initial efficacy data in Q1 2021, while the primary completion data of Phase 2/3 clinical trials in May. Notably, the full results for the former antibody are also expected in the first quarter this year.