Merck partners with nonprofit to develop potential coronavirus vaccine

Merck partners with nonprofit to develop potential coronavirus vaccine
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U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck is partnering with research nonprofit IAVI to develop a coronavirus vaccine, with clinical trials beginning by the end of this year, the partners announced Tuesday.

IAVI and Merck will work together to develop and evaluate the vaccine which will use the technology that is the basis for Merck’s Ebola Zaire virus vaccine. 

The coronavirus vaccine is in preclinical development at IAVI’s design and development lab in Brooklyn.

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Merck also signed an agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to provide initiative funding for the effort, according to the announcement.

“Merck and IAVI are eager to combine our respective strengths to accelerate development of an rVSV vaccine candidate, with the goal of blunting the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic,”  Dr. Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said in the announcement

IAVI President and CEO Dr. Mark Feinberg said a recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology, as used in Merck’s Ebola Zaire virus vaccine, represents a “promising approach to combating the novel coronavirus pandemic.” 

“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,” Feinberg said in a statement. 

Merck’s Ebola Zaire virus vaccine, Ervebo, was the first rVSV vaccine approved for use in humans.

Merck also announced a partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to create an oral antiviral drug to treat COVID-19.  

Perlmutter said Merck is beginning clinical evaluation of the drug after phase 1 studies demonstrated it is "well tolerated" and has "potent antiviral properties against multiple coronavirus strains" including the one that causes COVID-19. 

Under the agreement, Merck will gain exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialize the drug, EIDD-2801, and Ridgeback Bio will receive an "undisclosed upfront payment," Merck said.