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Merck Jumps Into Search for Covid-19 Vaccine and Treatment

Merck announces partnerships to develop two different vaccines to prevent coronavirus as well as an oral medication to treat it.

Global drug giant Merck  (MRK) - Get Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK) Report on Tuesday announced it was jumping into the global search for a Covid-19 cure and treatment with the development of two different vaccines to prevent it as well as an oral medication to treat it.

Merck, which has kept to the sidelines of the race for a Covid-19 vaccine, said Tuesday it was buying Vienna-based vaccine maker Themis Bioscience for an undisclosed amount, and would collaborate with research nonprofit IAVI to develop two separate vaccines.

It also announced a partnership with privately held Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to develop an experimental oral antiviral drug against Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a statement from the company.

“With our singular legacy and expertise in vaccines and anti-infective medicines, we know Merck has a responsibility to engage in the scientific community’s efforts to find new medicines and vaccines to bring this pandemic to an end,” CEO Kenneth Frazier said in a statement.

“Covid-19 is an enormous scientific, medical, and global health challenge. Merck is collaborating with organizations around the globe to develop anti-infectives and vaccines that aim to alleviate suffering caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection,” Dr. Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said in a separate statement.

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“Merck and IAVI are eager to combine our respective strengths to accelerate development of an rVSV vaccine candidate, with the goal of blunting the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Merck last summer struck a deal with Themis to develop vaccine candidates against an undisclosed disease target. In exchange, Merck agreed to pay Themis as much as $200 million if the vaccines hit undisclosed sales and development targets.

Themis’s efforts focus on immune response therapies. The most recent Themis vaccine is against Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne viral disease that causes fever and debilitating joint pain.

The IAVI vaccine could enter human studies this year. Merck has reportedly been in discussions with about whether vaccines based on the vesicular stomatitis virus, or VSV, that was used in the Ebola vaccine, might work against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, for several months.

Shares of Merck were up 3.12% at $78.75 in premarket trading on Tuesday.