Once neck and neck with Valneva to get the first chikungunya vaccine to market, it now looks like Merck & Co. has admitted defeat as its French rival reaches the finish line.
Merck’s contender was V184, a vaccine acquired through the Big Pharma’s $366 million takeover of Themis in 2020. While the candidate completed a phase 2 trial, the study was suspended “due to a clinical stock recovery action” from December 2020 to the completion date in June 2021— meaning it never hit its original enrollment goal.
Merck confirmed to Fierce Biotech this morning that it has now discontinued the chikungunya program as part of a “routine pipeline prioritization.”
Perhaps the company had decided that second place wasn’t worth it. After all, while Merck’s vaccine ran into difficulties, Valneva’s raced through the clinic. Last December, the French company completed a rolling submission to the FDA for its single-shot candidate, dubbed VLA1553.
Valneva’s application for approval in adults draws on phase 3 data demonstrating that VLA1553 induced a 96% protection rate after six months. The company also has an ongoing study in adolescents in Brazil, which Valneva said could support a future regulatory submission in this group.
The sprint to approval was never just a two-horse race, however. Emergent BioSolutions is also fielding its own candidate, which is in two phase 3 trials. The biotech received an award from the U.S. Department of Defense last November to conduct further evaluations of the shot should it get approved.
Chikungunya virus is spread to people by infected mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, incapacitating joint pain, headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash. Like many tropical diseases, the reach of the virus is spreading into a wider range of countries.