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Merck CANCELS development of both of its coronavirus vaccines after the shot offered people LESS protection than surviving COVID-19

  • Merck & Co said on Monday it is ending development of two potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates
  • Officials say the vaccines were well-tolerated but didn’t generate enough of an immune response
  • Instead, the New Jersey-based company says it will focus it research on therapeutic drugs to fight COVID-19
  • At least one of the drugs protects patients from the damage of an overactive immune response to the virus

Merck & Co says it is ending development of two potential COVID-19 vaccines following poor results in early-stage studies.

The drugmaker said on Monday that it will focus instead on studying two possible treatments for the virus that also have yet to be approved by regulators. 

The company said its vaccine candidates were ‘well tolerated’ by patients, but they generated an ‘inferior’ immune system response compared with other vaccines or infection with the virus. 

‘We are grateful to our collaborators who worked with us on these vaccine candidates and to the volunteers in the trials,’ Dr Dean Y Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories said in a statement.

‘We are resolute in our commitment to contribute to the global effort to relieve the burden of this pandemic on patients, health care systems and communities.’ 

Merck was developing one of the potential vaccines with France’s Pasteur Institute based on an existing measles vaccine. The French institute said it will keep working on two other vaccine projects using different methods.

FILE- This May 1, prednisone dogs shrink tumor 2018, file photo shows Merck corporate headquarters in Kenilworth, N.J. The drugmaker will stop developing two potential COVID-19 vaccines after seeing poor results in early-stage studies. The company said Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, that it will focus instead on studying two possible treatments for the virus that also have yet to be approved by regulators. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Merck entered the race to fight COVID-19 later than other top drugmakers.

Last fall, the firm said it had started early-stage research in volunteers on potential vaccines that require only one dose, different from.

At that point, vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna – each of which require two doses – were already in late-stage research.

Within a few months, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use of both two-dose shots.

Five potential vaccines have reached late-stage testing in the U.S., the final phase before a drugmaker seeks approval from regulators. Results from a single-dose candidate developed by Johnson & Johnson are expected soon.

Since vaccinations began in December, nearly 22 million doses have been delivered to people nationwide and nearly six percent of the population has received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

A total of 3.2 million people, or one percent of the population, have received both doses required for those vaccines.

The government is paying Merck about $356 million to fast-track production of one of its potential treatments under Operation Warp Speed, a push to develop COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. 

The money will allow the Kenilworth, New Jersey-based 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 life-saving efforts of doctors and nurses.

Merck said early results from a late-stage study of that drug showed a more than 5 0percent  reduction in the risk of death or respiratory failure in patients hospitalized with moderate or severe COVID-19.

 The company expects full results from that study in the first quarter.

Merck’s other potential treatment is an oral antiviral drug. The company also expects to see early results from mid-to-late-stage research on that in the first quarter.

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