Merck's in

May 28, 2020
As the coronavirus death toll in the United States passes 100,000, we have some hope as vaccine superpower Merck has launched several vaccine and antiviral candidates. We have the details, plus what Lyme disease tells us about climate change and some great tips from…
BIO

As the coronavirus death toll in the United States passes 100,000, we have some hope as vaccine superpower Merck has launched several vaccine and antiviral candidates. We have the details, plus what Lyme disease tells us about climate change and some great tips from our incoming CEO on how to cope with the pandemic, in around 850 words, around 4 minutes, 15 seconds.

Merck's in

The BIO member has launched two COVID-19 vaccine candidates as well as a partnership to develop an antiviral, bringing a legacy of success against some of the world’s most deadly viruses to the global fight.

The first vaccine candidate will be developed with Themis Bioscience, a biotech focused on vaccines and therapies for infectious diseases and cancer, which Merck's acquiring. The candidate will use the company’s measles virus vector platform. 

The second vaccine candidate will be developed in conjunction with IAVI and with support from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), based on technology used in Merck’s successful Ebola Zaire vaccine. 

They will also develop a novel antiviral. Merck will work with Ridgeback Bio to develop EIDD-2801, an oral pill that inhibits replication of the virus and leads it to self-destruct

They’ve done this before. Merck developed the Ebola vaccine as well as the MMR vaccine and the Gardasil vaccine to prevent HPV and cervical cancer, among others.

The timeline: The vaccines are in preclinical development, with clinical trials expected to begin in 2020. The antiviral was well tolerated in a safety trial in the UK and will begin “extensive clinical testing” in the US and UK as early as June, reports the Financial Times.

What they’re saying: “We will ensure that all of these programs have the resources, attention, and focus they need—and that the COVID-19 pandemic demands,” said Merck Chairman and CEO Kenneth C. Frazier. “Merck intends to make any vaccine or medicine we develop for this pandemic broadly accessible and affordable globally, and we are working now to accomplish this goal as quickly as possible.”

“Though the challenge of this pandemic is immense, we know that science and collaboration will triumph, just as they have before,” continued Frazier. “While we cannot predict when this battle will be won, we are confident that science is on our side, that collaboration is already well underway, and that together, we will prevail.” 

Learn more about what Merck and other companies are doing on COVID-19 vaccines in our episode of the I AM BIO Podcast featuring Dr. Julie Gerberding, Chief Patient Officer at Merck and former Director of the CDC.

 

More Health Care News: 

Biopharma Dive: Venture capital found its footing in biotech. Then came the virus.
“There's been no better time for venture firms to invest in drug startups than the past several years. But when a virus upended the world, it raised new questions about what types of investors and investments would succeed moving forward." 

 
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1 MINUTE WITH MICHELLE: How are you coping during the pandemic as a mom and changing jobs?
1 Minute with Michelle: How are you coping during the pandemic as a mom and changing jobs?

Lyme disease, climate change, and how we’re all connected

A solo hike in the woods might feel safer than a city walk right now, but The New York Times reminds us there are dangers lurking in nature, too—specifically, tick-borne Lyme disease, which is more common in late spring and summer. Here’s what you need to know—and why studying ticks and Lyme disease patterns can tell us so much about human and environmental health.

It’s Lyme disease season—and the symptoms are similar to COVID-19. Fever, malaise, and fatigue are symptoms of both diseases and “contracting a serious illness like Lyme could put you at greater risk from COVID,” The New York Times warns.

It’s most common along the East Coast and in parts of the Upper Midwest, particularly in smaller, fragmented patches of forest. 

But it’s spreading across the country due to climate change. Scientists think warmer weather allows ticks to survive, multiply, and spread more easily, and in fact, the EPA uses Lyme disease cases as a climate change indicator.

And deer aren’t the only animals that harbor ticks. New research indicates that the tick species “that most commonly transmits disease to humans” can be found on as many as 50 animals, especially mice and chipmunks, as well as lurking in shrubs and groundcover. 

But ticks aren’t necessarily all bad. New research has ALSO found that proteins in tick saliva might be used to create new medicines to suppress inflammatory diseases in humans, reports Interesting Engineering

So I’ll wear a hat and long sleeves in the woods. What does this have to do with policy? As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, it’s critically important to study the links between human health, animals, and the environment so we can prepare for future pandemics. One Health policies can help us understand where the next zoonotic disease outbreaks might occur and how to prevent them, by connecting the dots between shifts in animal, weather, and disease patterns.  

 

More Agriculture & Environment News: 

POLITICO: NIH Director: ‘No way of knowing’ if coronavirus escaped from Wuhan lab
"Nature created this virus, and has proven once again to be the most effective bioterrorist,” he said.

 
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President Trump’s Thursday: After yesterday’s SpaceX launch was postponed due to weather, there’s not much on the public agenda. He’ll receive a briefing on the 2020 hurricane season, and the press secretary is expected to hold a briefing at 2 PM ET.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: For the first time in history, a House member cast a proxy vote yesterday. (Rep. Brendan Doyle of Pennsylvania, on behalf of Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California.) Today, the House will hold a few COVID-related hearings, including an Education and Labor virtual hearing on how the federal government will protect workers.

 
 
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