Merck ends COVID-19 vaccine program

Merck said on Monday it’ll scrap development of its two COVID-19 vaccines. The drugmaker said early trials showed both vaccines produced immune responses that were inferior to those seen in people who had recovered from COVID-19 and those reported for other coronavirus vaccines.

Merck will record a pre-tax charge for the two vaccines in the fourth quarter. The news sent its shares down about 1% in early trading Monday.

Merck was a latecomer in the race to begin with. It acquired one vaccine candidate by buying Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience. It developed the other one with a nonprofit research organization.

Rivals Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech as well as Moderna have already produced tens of millions of doses that have been administered globally. Others like Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are racing to develop safe and effective vaccines to protect against the virus.

Merck says it will now focus pandemic research on treatments. It expects to produce early data on an experimental oral antiviral by the end of March. It also plans to soon post results from a Phase 3 study of an immune modulator aimed at treating patients with severe COVID-19.