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Merck & Co. moved to bolster the global fight against the coronavirus, unveiling plans for a pill to treat the infection and two vaccines to prevent it, though a top executive cautioned it may take longer than expected to deliver a vaccine and make it available globally.

The U.S. drugmaker bought rights to a promising antiviral discovered at Emory University and reached deals to advance candidate vaccines based on the technology behind Ebola and measles immunizations. But as a rush to restart economies has prompted some nations to compete for vital pharmaceuticals, Merck won’t give any one country an advantage and will prioritize access for health-care workers and others at highest risk, Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Frazier.


Kenneth Frazier,  Merck & Co. Chief Executive Officer

 

“This is a global pandemic. No one country can solve it, and we can’t put borders around any one country,” Frazier said in a phone interview. “If we’re successful, we want to ensure broad, affordable access for whoever needs it, wherever they are.”

And while the candidates look promising, Chief Patient Officer Julie Gerberding said it may take more time than expected to successfully develop and deploy a vaccine.

“I hope the people who are predicting a faster timeline than we have ever imagined are right, but we are talking about vaccinating the world, not just people in a given developed country,” she said during a discussion Tuesday hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota.

Merck shares rose 1.2% to $77.28 at 4:23 p.m. in New York. They’ve fallen more than 14% so far this year, outpacing losses seen by the S&P 500 amid broader economic tumult.

The Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company, which has pioneered inoculations to stop diseases from diphtheria to Ebola, has evaluated hundreds of potential Covid-19 vaccines, Frazier said. Below are the highlights of news announced in separate statements:

  • Collaboration with IAVI and funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, to develop a vaccine using technology behind Merck’s Ebola shot
  • Acquisition of Themis to gain another vaccine candidate that uses measles virus vector platform discovered by the Pasteur Institute
  • Rights to EIDD-2801, an oral antiviral candidate in early clinical development, bought from Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP and discovered at Emory University

 

Ebola Inspiration

Merck’s immunization against Ebola -- the only one approved by the Food and Drug Administration -- provided a reference point for a candidate Covid vaccine since it confers protection with a single shot and uses technology that’s shown to be safe and effective, Frazier said.