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Merck (MRK) pulls out of the COVID-19 vaccine race; will focus on investigational therapeutic candidates

The company will record a charge from the discontinuation in the fourth quarter of 2020

Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) has decided to discontinue the development of its COVID-19 vaccine candidates after its clinical trials yielded disappointing results. Shares stayed in red territory during afternoon hours on Monday. The stock has dropped nearly 6% over the past 12 months.

COVID-19 vaccines

Merck decided to suspend the development of its SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccine candidates, V590 and V591, after the Phase 1 clinical trials showed that both candidates were well tolerated in general but displayed inferior immune responses compared to those seen following natural infection as well as those shown by other COVID-19 vaccines.

The company will record a charge from the discontinuation in the fourth quarter of 2020 which will be included in GAAP results but will not impact adjusted results.  

Future plans

Merck plans to focus on the development and production of its two therapeutic candidates – MK-7110 and MK-4482. MK-7110 is an immune modulator that has shown to be effective in reducing the risk of death or respiratory failure in patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 according to results from a Phase 3 study.

In December, Merck entered into an agreement with the US government to supply around 60,000-100,000 doses of MK-7110 for approx. $356 million.

MK-4482, or molnupiravir, is an oral antiviral that is currently undergoing Phase 2/3 clinical trials in both hospital and outpatient settings and is being developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Bio. The Phase 2/3 studies are slated to conclude in May and the company expects initial efficacy data in the first quarter of 2021.

Merck stated that it will continue to evaluate the potential of the measles-virus vector and vesicular stomatitis virus vector-based platforms and pursue broader pandemic-response capabilities.

Competition

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ: MRNA) have received approvals from the FDA for their two-dose COVID-19 vaccines, both of which were proven to be 95% effective. Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) is working on its single-dose vaccine candidate and is expected to publish results soon.

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