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Merck plans to begin “giant registration research” for the remedy of coronaviruses in September

A research laboratory at Merck

John Tlumacki | The Boston Globe Getty Images

Merck already planned "very large approval studies" for oral coronavirus treatment in cooperation with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in September, a managing director said on Friday.

"We are expected to start very important studies in September, and these will be the most important," said Dr. Roger Perlmutter, President of Merck Research Laboratories, on the company's earnings call for the second quarter.

The experimental oral therapeutic agent MK-4482, which would fight against Covid-19, is currently in phase 2 studies. If the drug were approved, it would help critically ill coronavirus patients with Gilead's remdesivir. The company does not yet "dribble" data on drug performance in phase 2 trials, Perlmutter said.

"The good news about MK-4482 is that since it is an oral capsule medication, it can be easily administered from the time people have symptoms," said Perlmutter.

He said the goal of future studies will be to prove that the drug can shorten the duration of Covid-19 symptoms and, more importantly, prevent people from developing serious illnesses that they get to the hospital or intensive care unit could send.

The company is also developing two separate potential coronavirus vaccines. Merck recently acquired the Austrian vaccine manufacturer Themis Bioscience, which is developing a Covid-19 vaccine together with the Pasteur Institute and the University of Pittsburgh. The company announced on Friday that clinical trials for the candidate should begin in the third quarter.

Clinical studies for the other vaccine that Merck is developing with the non-profit IAVI for scientific research will begin this year, according to the company's income statement. Merck has not yet started human trials for its vaccine candidates, far behind some of its competitors, such as Moderna and Pfizer, who began their late-stage trials on Monday.

""The entire community should be very encouraged by the huge number of vaccine doses planned for manufacturing, particularly from 2020 and beyond, "Perlmutter said during the Friday call.

"If these vaccines are effective, I believe the industry will help people who are ultimately able to produce enough material to vaccinate a significant portion of the world's population," he said.

Merck exceeded Wall Street expectations in the second quarter and raised its general earnings guidance for the year when it reported earnings on Friday. The worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind it.

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