Merck & Co. To Acquire Themis, Forms Pact with IAVI for COVID-19 Vaccines
Merck & Co. has made two moves to advance vaccine candidates against COVID-19: an announced acquisition of Themis Bioscience, a Vienna, Austria-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company that is developing a COVID-19 vaccine, and a partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), a nonprofit scientific research organization, to develop a vaccine against COVID-19.
Acquisition of Themis Bioscience
In the first move, Merck & Co. has agreed to acquire, through a subsidiary, all outstanding shares of Themis Bioscience in exchange for an undisclosed cash payment. In March (March 2020), Themis joined a consortium together with the Institut Pasteur, a French research institute, and The Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh, supported by funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a public–private partnership focused on accelerating vaccine development, to develop a vaccine candidate targeting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Themis’ COVID-19 vaccine candidate is in preclinical development, and clinical studies are planned to start later in 2020 (as reported on May 26, 2020).
Merck’s planned acquisition of Themis builds upon an ongoing collaboration between the two companies to develop vaccine candidates using a measles virus vector platform. Themis’ measles virus vector platform is based on a vector originally developed by scientists at the Institut Pasteur and that is licensed exclusively to Themis for select viral indications.
Additionally, the Institut Pasteur, CEPI, and Merck have entered into a memorandum of understanding for developing, manufacturing and distributing, the vaccine on a global basis and with pricing that makes the vaccine both available and accessible.
Merck’s closing of its acquisition of Themis Bioscience is subject to the expiration or earlier termination of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act, merger-control clearance in Austria, and other customary conditions. Upon completion of the deal. Themis will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Merck.
Partnership with IVAI
In the second move, Merck & Co. has formed a collaboration with IAVI to develop a COVID-19 vaccine that will use the recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology that is the basis for Merck’s Ebola Zaire virus vaccine, Ervebo (Ebola Zaire vaccine, live).
Merck has also signed an agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the US Department of Health and Human Services, to provide initial funding support for this effort.
Under the agreement, IAVI and Merck will work to advance the development and clinical evaluation of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate designed and engineered by IAVI scientists. The vaccine candidate is in preclinical development, and clinical studies are planned to start later in 2020 (as reported on May 26, 2020). Merck will lead regulatory filings globally. Both organizations will develop the vaccine and will make it accessible globally, if approved.
IAVI’s rVSV vaccine preclinical development, including work on the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate, is being done by scientists at IAVI’s Design and Development Laboratory in Brooklyn, New York.