The United States Government and pharmaceutical company Merck announced a deal early Wednesday morning “to support the development, manufacture and initial distribution” of a treatment to treat severe or critical cases of COVID-19.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced the deal on Twitter, calling it “the latest example of how industry and government are coming together under Operation Warp Speed to move potential therapeutics all the way from development through to manufacturing, enabling faster distribution” in a statement.
Merck will receive about $356 million to manufacture and supply 60,000-100,000 doses of investigational biological therapeutic MK-7110 by June 30, 2021.
“Building upon the promising clinical findings to date for MK-7110, Merck is pleased to be collaborating with the U.S. Government to advance the manufacture and distribution of this candidate for patients with serious COVID-19 disease,” Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter, president, Merck Research Laboratories, said in a statement released separately by Merck.
A September 2020 study from OncoImmune, a biopharmaceutical company acquired by Merck, which is how Merck acquired the treatment, showed that “hospitalized patients with COVID-19 treated with a single dose of MK-7110 showed a 60% higher probability of improvement in clinical status” compared to those who received a placebo, and reduced the risk of death or respiratory failure by over 50%.
Merck noted that the study is ongoing.
“With this approach, doses will be packaged and ready to ship in the first half of 2021, in the event FDA determines MK-7110 meets the statutory criteria for issuance of an EUA,” HHS said in its release. “The federal government would allocate these doses to treat severe and critical COVID-19 patients using the same approach that has been used successfully to allocate supplies of other COVID-19 therapeutic treatments.”
HHS noted that the doses will be made available to Americans at no cost, though they noted “there may be costs associated with hospitalization.”