Merck & Co and IAVI join forces to develop COVID-19 vaccine

Merck & Co has joined with the non-profit scientific research organisation, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), to develop a potential vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

The US-based pharma, known as MSD outside the US and Canada, said it will utilise technology that is already used in its Ebola Zaire virus vaccine Ervebo. 

Ervebo uses recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology, and Ervebo was the first vaccine of this type approved for use in humans. 

Merck has also signed an agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, to provide initial funding support for this effort. 

Under the agreement IAVI and Merck will work together to advance the development and global clinical trials of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate designed and engineered by the non-profit organisation’s scientists. 

The vaccine candidate is in pre-clinical development, and clinical studies are planned to start later in 2020.  

Merck will lead regulatory filings and both organisations said they will work together to develop the vaccine and make it accessible and affordable globally, if approved. 

Pre-clinical development, including work on the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate, is being done by scientists at IAVI’s Design and Development Laboratory (DDL) in Brooklyn, New York. 

This is part of a long-standing effort to develop rVSV vaccines for HIV as well as other emerging infectious diseases such as Lassa fever, Marburg, and Ebola Sudan disease, under the leadership of Dr Swati Gupta, head of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Scientific Strategy, IAVI. 

The World Health Organization has been keeping tabs on the various vaccines in development to treat the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, and at the latest count there are 10 in the clinic and more than a hundred in pre-clinical development. 

The latest to make it through to the clinic is from US biotech Novavax, which has partnered with the non-profit Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop the potential vaccine. 


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