Merck Halts Work on Vaccine, Moderna Delivers 30.4 Million Doses to Feds

January 27, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
Merck corporate headquarters in Kenilworth, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Merck has withdrawn from the sprint to produce coronavirus vaccines after its two candidates failed to achieve strong results in preliminary trials.

The first phase of clinical studies showed that even though the vaccine candidates were “well tolerated” the immune responses triggered by them were “inferior” to natural infection and other vaccines, the company said in a written statement.

Merck, therefore, has decided to discontinue trials for its vaccine candidates V590 and V591. The company plans to focus its efforts on two other experimental therapeutic candidates, MK-4482 and MK-7110, and will “pursue broader pandemic-response capabilities” in the rush to wind down the pandemic, the company said. 

Senior Vice-President of Clinical Research for Infectious Disease and Vaccines Nick Kartsonis told reporters at Bloomberg that the results were “disappointing and a bit of a surprise.” But Kartsonis also told the Wall Street Journal that, “In the world of pharmaceutical development, a quick kill is not a bad thing because it allows you to reposition and repurpose your assets.”

The trial results are not yet available for scrutiny, but the company has said that it will submit them for peer reviewed publication.

Merck has a $356 million agreement with the US government to supply 60,000-100,000 doses of MK-7110, “a potentially first-in-class recombinant fusion protein that targets the innate immune system,” through June 30 under Operation Warp Speed. Operation Warp Speed is a private-public partnership connected to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense meant to streamline public availability of vaccines and other means of combating coronavirus.

Moderna, Inc., said on Tuesday that it has already delivered 30.4 million doses of its two-shot coronavirus vaccine to the US government, and that it will have delivered 100 million by the end of the first quarter this year. This puts them on track to have delivered 200 million doses by the end of June, they said. 

The government has already agreed to purchase 200 million doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, and it has the option to purchase 300 million more doses. 

Of those doses already delivered, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the government has administered more than 10 million. 

Moderna also put out a statement which claimed that its coronavirus vaccine neutralizes variants of the coronavirus that have emerged in South Africa and the UK. The Biden administration has recently reimposed international travel restrictions from those countries due to concerns over variants. 

“The two-dose regimen of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at the 100 µg dose is expected to be protective against emerging strains detected to date,” the company stated.

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