Merck bets on one-shot vaccine

Merck may seem like it's moving significantly slower than other pharma giants during the race to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, but the drugmaker is confident in its timeline for its single-dose vaccine candidate.

Merck is slated to begin human trials for its one-shot vaccine candidate Aug. 19. The 260-person study is launching months after drugmakers like Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca started theirs.

Merck's CEO, Kenneth Frazier, told Harvard Business School that drugmakers and public health officials do a "grave disservice" to the public when they suggest a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for distribution by the end of 2020.

"What worries me the most is that the public is so hungry, is so desperate to go back to normalcy, that they are pushing us to move things faster and faster," Mr. Frazier said. "Ultimately, if you are going to use a vaccine in billions of people, you'd better know what that vaccine does."

Merck, one of the few drugmakers in the race that is focusing on a single-dose vaccine, is using weakened viruses that reproduce but don't cause disease to develop its candidate. This approach has been used by Merck for decades, leading to the successful development of its widely-administered measles, mumps, chickenpox, rubella and HPV vaccines.

"They're 'slow and steady wins the race' kind of guys," Jonathan Miller, an analyst at research firm Evercore ISI, told Bloomberg.

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