Crucial readouts near for Merck's Covid-19 programmes


While some developers streaked out of the gates with Covid-19 projects, Merck & Co took its time, a strategy that chief executive Ken Frazier appeared to defend today. Past experience with other pandemics and epidemic viral diseases “counselled us to seek enduring solutions”, he said on an earnings call, remarks that could also be read as a swipe at any first movers whose effectiveness fails to live up to hopes. Merck’s two vaccine candidates are still in phase I, so it is too soon to know whether this cautious approach will eventually pay dividends. Immunogenicity data should start to emerge towards the end of the year, Merck’s head of R&D, Roger Perlmutter, said today, expressing optimism that both vaccines candidates will be able to offer durable protection after only one dose. He dismissed concerns that phase III trials, due to start next year, could struggle to enrol, pointing to “the very large impact of the pandemic”. He also expects Merck’s antiviral, molnupiravir, to be superior to Gilead’s Veklury, while its oral administration and benign side-effect profile could point to a potential prophylactic use, he mooted. Confirmation of a clean safety profile is crucial; phase II data are due by year end.

Merck's Covid-19 efforts
Project Detail
Molnupiravir (MK-4482) Oral antiviral. Phase II data due by year end, two phase II/III trials recruiting, data H1'21. 
V591 Measles virus vector vaccine. Phase I immunogenicity data due by year end. 
V590  rVSV-based vaccine. Phase I immunogenicity data due early 2021.

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