Merck, known as MSD outside the US and Canada, entered a collaboration agreement with Themis Bioscience for the research and development of vaccines with a ‘blockbuster’ indication, according to Themis.
Per the agreement, Themis will have the exclusive rights for the development of the vaccine candidate with the support of Merck’s funding and equity investment. Themis will also be eligible for milestone payments up to $200m (€180m) as well as royalties upon regulatory approvals.
The potential vaccines will be developed using Themis’ measles virus vector-based platform, the vectors of which were exclusively licensed to Themis by the French Institut Pasteur.
The platform enables the incorporation of large recombinant genes coding for selected antigens. The vaccine delivers the selected antigens directly to macrophages and dendritic cells, triggering a specific immune response to the selected antigens.
According to the company, the technology is applicable across various infectious diseases as well as other immunology indications, including cancer.
Using its platform, Themis has previously developed a vaccine against Chikungunya virus, which is approaching Phase III clinical trials, and a vaccine for Zika virus, currently in Phase I.
Further financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.
Merck bolstering its vaccine business
Merck has been looking to enhance its vaccine business during the last few months following disease outbreaks, while it also receives additional support for this purpose from the US government.
According to a recent announcement from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the company will receive an additional $23m (€20m) funding to continue the production and supply of its investigational Ebola vaccine over the next year, for the outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Additionally, the company plans to increase the US supply of its MMR-II vaccine against measles, aiming to maintain the product’s availability amid reports about 1,203 cases since the beginning of 2019, which is the greatest number of cases since 1992.