- The Washington Times - Monday, January 25, 2021

Drugmaker Merck said Monday it is giving up on the COVID-19 vaccines it was developing and will focus on treatments for the disease.

The New Jersey-based company said it shifted gears because its pair of vaccine candidates did not produce an immune response on par with other companies’ vaccines or people who’ve survived natural infection.

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

Messenger-RNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were approved for emergency use in December, making them the big winners in the vaccine race after studies showed whopping efficacy of about 95%.

A vaccine from AstraZeneca-Oxford University is being used in the U.K. and Europe and should be presented to U.S. regulators in the coming weeks or months.

Johnson and Johnson should report data from its phase 3 trial soon. The J&J vaccine requires only one dose, meaning its approval would be a game-changer in the immunization campaign.

Merck will focus on a recombinant protein drug, known as MK-7110, that modulates the body’s inflammatory response to COVID-19 and showed a 50%-plus reduction in the risk of death or respiratory failure among patients hospitalized with moderate to severe bouts of the disease.

It is also working with Ridgeback Bio to develop molnupiravir, or “MK-4482,” an antiviral drug that is taken orally and being evaluated in outpatient and hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

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