Merck Developing Two Different COVID-19 Vaccines and Antiviral


Merck, one of Big Pharma’s biggest players, reveals its COVID-19 vaccine and therapy plans

By Jon Cohen/Science Magazine

Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, has been conspicuously absent from the race to develop COVID-19 vaccines and drugs. No longer. The company this morning announced it has cut deals to develop and manufacture two different COVID-19 vaccines and a much-discussed experimental antiviral compound that is already in early clinical trials.

Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, portrays the company as deliberate rather than a latecomer. And the immunologist believes Merck’s skills and experience can accelerate the progress that other, smaller developers already have made. “Clearly, we have a lot of heft,” says Perlmutter, who declined to disclose how much Merck is investing in each project.

According to the World Health Organization’s latest table of COVID-19 vaccines, 124 candidates are at various stages of development with eight different technologies, or platforms. Merck’s new investments focus on a platform, known as the replicating viral vector, that takes longer to develop than others, but will potentially lead to robust immune responses triggered by a single dose. “Most vaccine projects fail—it’s very difficult to make a vaccine,” Perlmutter says. “So if I’m going to start making a vaccine, I’d like to be thoughtful about which vaccine platforms more:

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