Merck halts development of two COVID-19 vaccine candidates after inadequate response

The company will continue to research two investigational therapeutic candidates
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KENILWORTH — American pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co announced that it will stop developing two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, V590 and V591. 

This decision followed findings from the first phase of clinical studies, in which immune responses to V590 and V591 were inferior to those seen after natural infection and those reported for other COVID-19 vaccines. 

“We are grateful to our collaborators who worked with us on these vaccine candidates and to the volunteers in the trials,” said Dr. Dean Y. Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories. 

“We are resolute in our commitment to contribute to the global effort to relieve the burden of this pandemic on patients, health care systems and communities.”

 Multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company Merck has stopped development of two COVID-19 vaccine candidates PHOTO: Courtesy of Brendan McDermid/Reuters




Merck plans to instead devote its research resources to two therapeutic candidates, MK-4482 and MK-7110. The company said it will advance clinical programs and scale up manufacturing for the two investigational medicines.

MK-4482 is a “potentially first-in-class investigational recombinant fusion protein that modulates the inflammatory response to SARS-CoV-2, principally by targeting a novel immune pathway checkpoint,” according to Merck. 

Interim results from a phase three study indicated over 50% reduction in the risk of death and respiratory failure in patients who were hospitalized with moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, the company claimed.

MK-7110, or molnupiravir, is an oral antiviral agent currently investigated in collaboration with Ridgeback Bio. It is now evaluated in phase two/three clinical trials in both hospital and outpatient settings, which are anticipated to end in Mary 2022. 

Merck will also continue to evaluate the potential of the measles-virus vector and vesicular stomatitis virus vector-based platforms.

“The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for our company and our industry to continue to invest in research to address threats to health security,” Merck said.

Readers should note that most of the current COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for emergency use only in most countries, including the US.

Pfizer recently launched a trial with BioNTech to test their vaccine on pregnant women, ABC News reported February 18. The study will involve 4,000 pregnant women, who were excluded from the first clinical trials.

Earlier this month, on February 5, Pfizer announced that it pulled its application for vaccine use in India after the health regulator requested the company to conduct local safety and immunogenicity studies. 

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