Merck has entered into an agreement to buy Themis with an objective to accelerate the development of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. This takeover will witness Merck, a latecomer in the race for a vaccine, apply its vaccine-making capabilities to a potential candidate based on Themis’ measles vector platform, which is all set to enter the market this year. Themis is currently developing a pipeline of vaccines that are based on a measles virus vector platform which was licensed from the Pasteur Institut. Themis is aiming to use the same vector and manufacturing system to develop a vaccine that would efficiently induce protection against a lot of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
Merck is now all set to apply its vaccine making capabilities to this program. The Pharma industry already had a major human vaccine operation, which generated sales of worth 8.4 billion USD last year, but it was pushed to the sidelines in the initial days of the pandemic as companies and peers such as AstraZeneca, Sanofi, and Pfizer placed their bets on potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates. However, in late April, Merck stated that it was talking to multiple groups about its three viral vector platforms. These talks result in an agreement to buy Themis, which is a privately owned Austrian biotech firm. Merck is planning to start human trials of the vaccine this year and has previously stated that it is trying to identify internal resources and potential contract manufacturers who can produce up to 1 billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Merck bought the concept last summer when it asked the biotech firm to develop vaccines against an undisclosed target and then further invested in its series C round. Now, Merck has decided to complete the acquisition of its partner outright. Merck and CEPI have entered into a memorandum of understanding about the requirement to make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible to all the people who need it, including low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries, based on their medical needs.