M&A race for a Covid-19 vaccine

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Merck (NYSE: MRK), like many other pharmaceutical providers, wants to produce 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines and start testing them on people later in 2020. Merck completed its deal for vaccine maker Themis in June. The deal for Themis speeds up those plans. Themis is working on developing a vaccine to potentially treat the coronavirus.

“We are eager to combine our strengths both to develop an effective Covid-19 vaccine in the near term and to build a pandemic preparedness capability directed toward emerging agents that pose a future epidemic threat,” says Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck research laboratories.

Themis is not the only company that Merck is working with to develop potential coronavirus treatments. Merck partnered with biotechnology firm Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to work on an experimental antiviral drug called EIDD-2801.

The demand to get as many vaccines out as possible quickly is driving M&A in the sector. Novavax (Nasdaq: NVAX) is buying Czech Republic-based Praha Vaccines for $167 million. The two companies will work with vaccine producer Serum Institute of India to develop a coronavirus vaccine. The acquisition includes a biologics manufacturing facility and assets in Bohumil, Czech Republic. In July, Novavax received $1.6 billion in Federal funding to go towards clinical trials for its vaccine candidate.

“Manufacturing capacity is a critical component of our strategy to deliver a vaccine for the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Stanley Erck, CEO of Novavax. “This acquisition provides the vital assets required to produce more than 1 billion doses per year.”

Other pharmaceutical companies are accelerating their internal research. Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) is expecting to begin clinical trials of its own vaccine by the end of July.

“We are continuing our efforts to build important global partnerships and invest in our vaccine production technology and manufacturing capabilities,” says Paul Stoffels, Johnson & John chief scientific officer. “Our goal is to ensure we can deliver a vaccine to the world and protect people everywhere from this pandemic.”

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) says now is an ideal time to seek deal opportunities. The company has formed the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative, where it will invest up to $500 million in biotech firms. Businesses will receive funding and access to Pfizer’s scientific resources to help them grow their clinical development programs.

“There has never been a more important moment to pursue new collaborations in our industry,” says John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer.

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