Merck & Co. has begun testing one of its experimental Kovid-19 vaccine candidates in healthy volunteers.
The study is based in Belgium and was sought by Merck on a government database to enroll 260 subjects and was confirmed by the company. The company told The Wall Street Journal that the study subjects have begun dosing, but declined to comment further.
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The Phase 1/2 trial will evaluate the shot in healthy volunteers to ensure that it is safe and that the vaccine induces an immune response to the new coronovirus for indication.
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The study is estimated to be completed in April 2022 according to the government database Clintrials.gov, although it may end very quickly. Several early-stage Kovid-19 vaccine trials have produced results within months.
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Merck’s experimental shot contains a weak version of the virus that causes measles. According to Merck, the weak measles virus aims to deliver coronovirus spike proteins to the immune system to help trigger an immune response in novel coronaviruses.
To develop the vaccine, Merck said in May that it was acquiring privately held Austrian company Themis Bioscience. The vaccine was developed by the French research non-profit institute Pasteur and licensed to Themis.
Merck, based in Kenilworth, NJ, is a long-time producer of vaccines and antivirals, including the human papillomavirus Shot Gardasil.
For the Kovid-19, the company stated that it wanted to develop a vaccine that would provide protection with a single dose so that a second shot was not needed and use a proven technology that was easily extended to manufacture can go.
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Other potential Kovid-19 vaccines are further in development than Merck that use different technologies. Pfizer Inc. and partner Biotech SE, and Modern Inc.’s vaccines use a non-gene gene-based technique called mRNA and both also require two shots.
Those vaccines, along with one from AstraZeneca plc, are in late stage, or in phase 3, clinical trials seeking to recruit 30,000 subjects in the US.
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For its experimental Kovid-19 vaccine, Merck plans to test the shot in subjects aged 18 years to 55 years and then 60 years and older, according to government databases. It is also testing to give one or two doses to patients.
Merck’s second attempt at a coronavirus vaccine is through a partnership with the scientific-research organization IAVI, whose experimental vaccine uses the same technology as the basis for Merck’s Ebola Zaire virus vaccine. Merck has said that human trials to test for this second vaccine could begin later this year.
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