Merck kicks back rights to early-phase RSV jab to Moderna

After helping Moderna push a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine for adults into the clinic, Merck is calling it quits. The Big Pharma is doubling down on its in-house RSV antibody and will see Moderna’s jab through the phase 1 trial before handing back the rights to the program.

Moderna welcomes the program, mRNA-1172, back into its prophylactic vaccine pipeline, where it joins mRNA-1345, an RSV vaccine for children that just began a phase 1 study.

“We appreciate the collaboration with Merck to date and we are pleased to continue advancing our RSV vaccine (mRNA-1345), which uses our proprietary delivery technology,” said Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO. “With this portfolio consolidation, we will continue to pursue RSV vaccines to protect the most vulnerable populations—young children and older adults.”

RELATED: Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine spurs immune response in older adults

Although the duo are parting ways on RSV, they remain partners in oncology. They originally teamed up in 2016 on a personalized cancer vaccine pact, adding a vaccine for KRAS-mutated cancers two years later.

RELATED: Forget October. Warp Speed chief says first COVID shot data—from Pfizer and Moderna—won't appear till later this year

The personalized vaccine program, mRNA-4157, is based on neoantigens found in individual patients’ tumors. The company then builds custom strands of mRNA containing instructions for the body to make those neoantigens and trigger the immune system to attack them. It is in a phase 2 melanoma study testing it in combination with Merck’s PD-1 med Keytruda versus Keytruda alone.

And the KRAS candidate, mRNA-5671, is in a phase 1 trial assessing its safety alone and in tandem with Keytruda. This study will involve patients with various KRAS-mutated cancers, including non-small cell lung, colorectal and pancreatic cancers.

RELATED: Merck, slower than its peers, edges into COVID-19 fight

The news comes as Moderna, Merck and their biopharma peers race to develop new treatments and vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic. Moderna’s mRNA vaccine was the first COVID-19 vaccine to enter human trials, while Merck joined the fight in a more “thoughtful” manner. The Big Pharma acquired Themis in May to ramp up development of the latter’s COVID-19 vaccine and announced in July it would begin human trials in the third quarter.