EU in deals with Roche, Merck for supply of potential COVID-19 vaccine

As the race for the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus disease heats up, the European Commission has made deals with two drugmakers, Roche (ROG.S) and Merck KGaA (MRCG.DE), to secure supplies of experimental treatments for COVID-19.

Reports from Reuters suggest that the deals cover Roche’s arthritis medicine, RoActemra, and Merck’s multiple sclerosis drug, Rebif, both seen as potential treatments for COVID-19, and will secure supplies to any of the 27 EU member states willing to buy them.

Merck had also been asked by the European Commission to be prepared to supply Rebif to European Union (EU) states upon request, if and when the c2 drug for COVID-19 treatment is confirmed.

The agreements with the 2 drug firms follow requests by EU countries in May to purchase the 2 drugs and as governments compete to have access to potential treatment and vaccines against the coronavirus disease, even before the efficacy is proven.

Roche is presently at the late stage of a 330 patient trial of Actemra, also known as RoActemra in some markets, on COVID-19 patients, after the anti-inflammatory drug used against rheumatoid arthritis was deployed in China on patients that suffered from a severe immune system reaction.

This particular drug in combination with Gilead’s GILD.O antiviral remdesivir, has also been tested on COVID-19 patients. The Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir is the only drug authorized so far by the EU for use against COVID-19.

Rebif was developed by Serono, a Swiss biotech firm, before Merck acquired the company. Both Rebif and Actemra target proteins in the body associated with inflammation, and there is some hope that they may help severely ill COVID-19 patients suffering from cytokine storm, an immune system reaction that can lead to organ failure.

Roche and Merck have agreed that they could meet the demand of the EU countries, in letters to the commission. The EU countries will now have to agree with the drug companies on the volume of supplies that will be needed.

It can be recalled that just a few days ago, Nairametrics reported that the British government and 2 pharmaceutical giants, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi, were on the verge of agreeing on a $624 million deal for the supply of 600 million doses of coronavirus vaccine. The UK government is considering taking up an option to buy the vaccine once the human trials turn out successful.

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