Kenilworth-based global drugmaker Merck is cancelling its development of two COVID-19 vaccines, after data from Phase 1 clinical trials showed “inferior” immune responses.
The Jan. 25 move means that just six other drugmakers are vying to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. Two of them are in New Jersey: Johnson & Johnson based in New Brunswick, and Sanofi in Bridgewater.
According to various media reports, Johnson & Johnson could apply as soon as February for emergency federal approval of their vaccine candidate.
Merck said in a statement that after reviewing data from Phase 1 trials, it found that the immune responses in test subjects, while “well-tolerated,” were still “inferior to those seen following natural infection and those reported for other… vaccines.”
One shot, V590, relied on technology from Merck’s Ebola vaccine program while the V591 relied on their technology on a measles shot used in Europe.
Company officials said they will instead continue to focus on developing a pair of COVID-19 therapeutic treatments.
Merck had only just begun recruiting volunteers in late 2020 after Pfizer and Moderna went public with their results.
Lifting the restrictions initially put in place to contain the virus’ spread would require a sustained decrease in cases, fatalities and hospitalizations, like what was seen over the summer, and the vaccination process is key to meaningfully and permanently rolling them back.
New Jersey is receiving 100,000 vaccine doses each week – half of them from Pfizer and the other half from Moderna. State health officials said that number is far below what the state needs to reach a goal of vaccinating 4.7 million adults in a six-month window.
Gov. Phil Murphy has criticized how the vaccine rollout has gone under former-President Donald Trump.
The early weeks of the vaccination efforts have been marred by extreme shortages, and President Joe Biden previously called the efforts a “dismal failure.”
Murphy has praised Biden’s plans for the vaccine, which include a goal for 100 million Americans in his first 100 days, and potential activation of the Defense Production Act to meet the growing demand.