Merck signs $356 million U.S. supply deal for its experimental COVID-19 treatment

(Reuters) -Merck & Co announced Wednesday that the U.S. government would be receiving 60,000 to 100,000 doses of its experimental COVID-19 treatment for up to $ 356 million.
The agreement will help support the advancement and large-scale manufacture of the investigational drug MK-7110 for the treatment of hospital patients with severe or critical COVID-19, according to the U.S. Department of Health.
The funding enables the development of MK-7110, including completing activities required to request an emergency clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and dispensing the cans by June 30, 2021.
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Merck has expanded its portfolio of COVID-19 treatments in recent months through a number of deals, including the acquisition of drug maker Themis and a partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP.
The company agreed to purchase $ 425 million worth of OncoImmune in November, giving it control of MK-7110, a promising world-class fusion protein and immunomodulator. Immunomodulators can minimize the harmful effects of an overactive immune response to COVID-19.
Interim results from September showed that therapy, given as an injection, increased the likelihood of symptom improvement in severe COVID-19 cases, and also reduced the risk of respiratory failure and death.
The cans will be made available to the American public free of charge, the agency said.
The United States approved two emergency vaccines this month, and more than 600,000 Americans received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses on Monday, but the need for treatment for those hospitalized remains high.
Merck is also working on two potential vaccines that are still in the early stages of development. It is also working with Ridgeback to develop an antiviral treatment called molnupiravir.
The company's shares rose nearly 1% to $ 80 on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Maju Samuel)

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