Merck, via its Themis buy, to move first COVID-19 vaccine into clinical development in Q3

Merck was purposely cautious during the start of the pandemic when it came to vaccine development but is now slowly but surely ramping up its efforts into the clinic.

The U.S. Big Pharma, which has good form in creating a new vaccine against a sweeping threat after gaining approval for its Ebola vaccine, said in its second-quarter update that, via its recent buyout of Themis, it’s plotting a third-quarter start for human testing of its thus preclinical V591.

While behind the likes of AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech and CureVac, Merck hopes its expertise and slightly different MOA may prove a tortoise over the hare victory.

The Themis/Merck vaccine works by tapping a measles virus vector platform based on a vector originally developed by scientists at the Institut Pasteur, a world-leading European vaccine research institute, and licensed exclusively to Themis.

And this is not the only shot on goal, as Merck has also teamed up with IAVI for another vaccine candidate,V590, that uses a recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus platform.

This is the same platform that was used for Merck’s approved Ebola vaccine, making it more of a known entity; human studies “are planned to start this year.” This also dovetails with a series of antivirals the company is working on, already in clinical testing.

Merck’s CEO Ken Frazier said: “This pandemic underscores the essential role of Merck and the biopharmaceutical industry in addressing the world’s greatest health challenges and underscores the importance of a health care ecosystem that incentivizes risk-taking and innovation. Ultimately, scientific and medical knowledge will help overcome this ongoing global pandemic, and that is why we must continue to trust and invest in breakthrough science.”