Drug giant Merck announced Monday it was halting development of two COVID-19 vaccine candidates after poor results in preliminary studies.
Merck is dropping two potential COVID-19 vaccines following poor results in early-stage studies.
The drugmaker said on Monday it would instead focus on studying two possible treatments for the virus that have yet to be approved by regulators. The company said its potential vaccines were well tolerated by patients, but generated a lower immune system response than other vaccines.
Merck was developing one of the potential vaccines with the French Pasteur Institute based on an existing measles vaccine. The French institute said it would continue to work on two more vaccine projects using different methods.
Merck entered the race to fight COVID-19 later than other major drugmakers.
He said last fall he had started early-stage research in volunteers on potential vaccines requiring only one dose. The vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna were already in the advanced research phase at this stage.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized emergency use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines late last year. Each requires two hits.
Five potential vaccines have reached advanced stages of testing in the United States, the final phase before a drugmaker seeks regulatory approval. Results of a single dose candidate developed by Johnson & Johnson are expected shortly.
Since vaccinations began in December, nearly 22 million doses have been delivered to people across the country, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost six percent of the population has received at least one dose.
A total of 3.2 million people, or one percent of the population, received the two doses required for these vaccines.
More than 419,000 people in the United States and two million worldwide have died from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The government is paying Merck & Co around $ 356 million to ramp up production of one of its potential treatments as part of Operation Warp Speed, an initiative to develop COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. The money will allow the Kenilworth, New Jersey company to deliver up to 100,000 doses by June 30, if the FDA clears the treatment for emergency use.
The treatment, known as MK-7110, has the potential to minimize the damaging effects of an overactive immune response to COVID-19. This immune response can complicate the vital efforts of doctors and nurses.
Merck said the first results of an advanced study of the drug showed a more than 50% reduction in the risk of death or respiratory failure in hospitalized patients with moderate or severe COVID-19. The company expects the full results of this study in the first quarter of 2021.
The other potential treatment for Merck is oral antiviral medication. The company also expects to see early results from mid to advanced research on this topic in the first quarter.