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Merck Pushes Ahead on Coronavirus Vaccine Treatment

Merck & Co. plans to begin two large clinical trials in September of an experimental oral antiviral therapy for COVID-19.

This plan is to bring other treatment options to the market. In Merck’s earnings conference call, there is a “profound medical need for orally active treatment,” said Roger Perlmutter, the pharmaceutical giant’s top scientist.

The therapy, known as MK-4482, was discovered by scientists at Emory University and is being studied in phase 2 trials. If approved by regulators it would compete with Gilead Sciences Inc.’s Remdesivir.

In addition, Merck and collaborator Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP is in talks to start a large phase 2 trial of MK-4482 with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH).

The pandemic harmed Merck’s business in the second quarter, but “it has demonstrated the critical importance of organizations that are focused on breakthrough science,” said Merck’s Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Frazier.

“The results that we’ve seen thus far from a variety of early phase 1 studies are as good as one could hope for really,” Perlmutter said. However, additional large, late-stage trials are needed to answer many critical questions, including how well the vaccines will perform in patients, he said.

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