Merck has halted its development of two potential vaccines for the coronavirus, citing data that showed a lack of immune response, Bloomberg reported.
The two vaccine candidates, which derive from technology used to develop Merck’s Ebola and measles vaccines, generated fewer antibodies than existing vaccines, according to interim trial data.
“We didn’t have what we needed to be able to move forward,” said Nick Kartsonis, senior vice president of clinical research for infectious diseases and vaccines, who called the data “disappointing and a bit of a surprise.”
Although the news comes as vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna have begun distribution, the rollout of those vaccines has lagged behind initial goals and new, more aggressive, strains of the virus have emerged whose resilience against those vaccines remains unclear.
Kartsonis told Bloomberg that after stopping development, the company will shift the resources toward two late-stage development drugs for treatment of the virus.
“In the world of pharmaceutical development, a quick kill is not a bad thing because it allows you to reposition and repurpose your assets,” he said.
Merck will overhaul several of its manufacturing facilities to produce another, more complex coronavirus drug candidate, which showed promising results for recovery of patients needing oxygen in an interim trial. The company expects to release full results in the first quarter of 2021, after which it expects an emergency use authorization. The federal government has agreed to buy up to 100,000 doses for $365 million, according to Bloomberg.
In addition to this candidate, the drugmaker is developing a pill to treat patients in the earlier stages of the virus, with studies due to conclude in May. Chief Marketing Officer Michael Nally said the company expects to be able to produce more than 20 million courses of the antiviral, which patients will take twice a day for a five-day period.