Merck Covid vaccine: Why did Merck discontinue Covid vaccine candidates?

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American pharmaceutical company Merck & Co has dropped vaccine development efforts. The company, which used a different method to its rivals in the US, had two operating projects. But it will no-longer develop either amid some disappointing results. 

Why did Merck discontinue its Covid vaccine candidates?

Merck was amongst several US pharmaceutical companies working on Covid-19 vaccines in the US.

Along with Pfizer and Moderna, the company had an established track record of development.

One of theirs, an Ebola jab, formed the basis of their V590 project.

The other, named V591, borrowed technology from a measles vaccine they developed in Europe.

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Both candidates used weakened viruses to stimulate an immune response.

Others developed in the US used a relatively new alternative method which utilised mRNA.

They entered early-phase safety testing at the end of the year, a few steps behind Pfizer and Moderna.

Their decision to drop them came following early phase one results.

They found both were “generally well tolerated” at this stage, but ultimately fell short.

Researchers reported their jabs failed to reproduce the same level of immunity which followed natural infection.

They were also ultimately “inferior” to candidates developed by other pharmaceutical giants.

Merck hasn’t yet released its full phase one results, which it says it will submit for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

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Nick Kartsonis, senior vice president of clinical research for infectious diseases and vaccines at Merck Research Laboratories, said the results were “disappointing”.

They also came as a “bit of a surprise”, he said in an interview with Bloomberg on Sunday.

He added: “We didn’t have what we needed to be able to move forward.”

Merck hasn’t dropped its research on Covid-19, instead opting to “advance clinical programs” and “scale-up manufacturing for two investigational medicines”.

Their investigational medicines, MK-7110 and MK-4482 (molnupiravir) are experimental antiviral drugs.

Dr Dean Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said Merck is “resolute” in its efforts to contribute to the global Covid effort.

He said in a statement: “We are grateful to our collaborators who worked with us on these vaccine candidates and to the volunteers in the trials.

“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.”

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