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Merck Will Buy Themis Bioscience, Enter Race for COVID-19 Vaccine

May 26, 2020
Merck also announced a partnership with IAVI to develop a separate vaccine candidate based on Merck’s Ebola Zaire vaccine.

Merck & Co., Inc., the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company, announced Tuesday May 26 they had agreed to purchase Themis Bioscience. The deal, executed for an undisclosed cash sum, will bring Themis’s efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine under Merck’s roof.

According to Reuters, Themis’s vaccine candidate uses a variety of the measles virus to introduce inactive parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 into a patient’s body. The body can then produce antibodies capable of defending against active SARS-CoV-2 invaders. The COVID-19 vaccine candidate was developed as part of a consortium including Themis, the Institut Pasteur, and the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research, which was funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

“This acquisition by Merck, a global leader in vaccine development, reflects Themis’ success in applying our versatile immune-modulation platform that builds on the original discoveries from the Institut Pasteur,” said Dr. Erich Tauber, CEO of Themis. The company will become a full subsidiary of Merck once the deal is closed.

In addition to the Themis purchase, Merck also announced they would partner with IAVI to develop a separate vaccine candidate. That candidate will use the same technology behind Merck’s Ebola Zaire virus vaccine. Both vaccine candidates are expected to start clinical testing later in the year.

The pull of being the company to create a vaccine that, according to Johns Hopkins University, has killed almost 100,000 people in the United States, has driven large pharmaceutical manufacturers to accelerate their vaccine research & development to unprecedented speeds. Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna are among companies attempting to bring their own vaccine candidates through preliminary and human testing as quickly as possible.

Several companies have their eyes set on a January deployment following an emergency use authorization: if any of them manage, the 12-month turnaround between initial lab sequencing of a virus and vaccine deployment would be unprecedented in the history of immunology.

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