New Jersey-based Merck, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, has just abandoned its two experimental COVID vaccine projects after early data showed they generated little, if any, immune response in patients.
Merck's shares took a hit on the news, tumbling nearly 2%, as the company - which has a long history of developing vaccines (though typically on a longer timeline) - adopted a different strategy from rivals like Pfizer, Moderna and J&J. Merck used a more traditional approach focusing on weakened viruses. One approach, called V590, used technology from Merck's Ebola inoculation efforts, while the other, known as V591, was based on a measles vaccine used in Europe.
Merck has lagged peers like Pfizer, JNJ and GSK for pretty much the entire time, while its lab results were "disappointing, and "a bit of a surprise," said Nick Kartsonis, Merck's senior vice president of clinical research for infectious diseases and vaccines at Merck Research Laboratories.
Both shots generated fewer neutralizing antibodies than other vaccines and produced inferior immune responses compared with people who had naturally contracted the coronavirus. "We didn’t have what we needed to be able to move forward," Kartsonis said in an interview Sunday. After evaluating the data, Merck's leadership team decided to scrap the vax effort and focus resources on COVID treatments instead.