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Merck will use Themis’s vector platform to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, has entered an agreement to acquire privately held Themis, a company focused on vaccines and immune-modulation therapies for infectious diseases and cancer, the companies announced in a May 26, 2020 press release. The companies had been working together using Themis’ measles virus vector platform to develop vaccines. The acquisition will accelerate the development of Themis’ COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which is in preclinical development, with clinical studies planned for later in 2020.
Themis’ platform is based on a vector originally developed by scientists at the European vaccine research institute, Institut Pasteur, which is licensed exclusively to Themis for select viral indications. The platform uses a modified measles vaccine virus as a vector and can be engineered to express a wide range of antigens capable of triggering a protective memory response. The vector has been incorporated into vaccine development programs against infectious diseases including severe acute respiratory syndrome, middle east respiratory syndrome, Chikungunya, and Lassa fever.
In March, Themis joined a consortium together with the Institut Pasteur and The Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh, supported by funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), to develop a vaccine candidate targeting SARS-CoV-2 for the prevention of COVID-19.
“Building on the pioneering work of the Institut Pasteur, the Themis team has established specialized expertise that complements Merck’s own capabilities in the discovery, development, manufacturing, and global distribution of vaccines,” said Roger M. Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, in the press release. “We are eager to combine our strengths both to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine in the near term and to build a pandemic preparedness capability directed toward emerging agents that pose a future epidemic threat.”
“This acquisition by Merck, a global leader in vaccine development, reflects Themis’ success in applying our versatile immune-modulation platform that builds on the original discoveries from the Institut Pasteur,” said Erich Tauber, CEO of Themis, in the press release.
According to the press release, Institut Pasteur, CEPI, and Merck have entered into a memorandum of understanding that reflects the parties’ commitments to address the COVID-19 pandemic by developing, manufacturing, and distributing the vaccine on a global basis and with pricing that makes the vaccine both available around the world and accessible to those who need it, including low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries based on the medical need when the vaccine may become available. Merck plans to manufacture any approved vaccine at sites in the US and Europe.
Under terms of the agreement, Merck, through a subsidiary, will acquire all outstanding shares of Themis, which will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Merck. The transaction is subject to the expiration or earlier termination of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act, merger control clearance in Austria, and other customary conditions.