Merck, which was based in 1891, has been in the vaccine business for greater than 100 years, having developed a few of the world’s most well-known vaccines, together with these for mumps, hepatitis A and chickenpox. In 2019, it was the first company to win approval from the Food and Drug Administration for an Ebola vaccine.
When the coronavirus started spreading round the world, nevertheless, Merck was gradual to announce plans for a vaccine. By the time it supplied particulars about two vaccine candidates in late May, most of its main opponents had already introduced offers, and Pfizer and Moderna had already begun early medical trials.
But Merck didn’t need to be first to win. Executives determined to pursue two initiatives that they felt had benefits over opponents. One vaccine, developed in partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, would depend on the identical know-how, based mostly on a innocent livestock virus, that had yielded their profitable Ebola vaccine. The different, acquired via a purchase order of Themis Bioscience, was based on an existing measles vaccine.
Both of the experimental Covid vaccines, the company mentioned, could be examined utilizing a single dose, and Merck was additionally exploring whether or not the one utilizing the livestock virus may very well be given orally — two large edges over potential opponents, particularly in the growing world.
In July, Merck’s chief government, Kenneth C. Frazier, warned in opposition to transferring too shortly. “I think when people tell the public that there’s going to be a vaccine by the end of 2020, for example, I think they do a grave disservice to the public,” Mr. Frazier mentioned in an interview with a Harvard Business School professor. Mr. Frazier recently announced that he would retire as chief government later this year, a choice that had been lengthy deliberate.
In an interview in August, Dr. Nicholas Kartsonis, Merck’s senior vp of medical analysis for vaccines and infectious illnesses, mentioned the company’s position as main vaccine maker gave it the luxurious of time. “We are a much larger company. We are not as beholden to having to be first,” he mentioned.