Merck to acquire Themis to develop COVID-19 vaccine

Kenilworth-based Merck announced Monday that it will acquire Themis, a privately-held company focused on vaccines and immune-modulation therapies for infectious diseases and cancer.

Under terms of the deal, a Merck subsidiary will acquire all the outstanding shares of Themis and Themis will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Merck. The drugmaker said the deal will build on an already existing collaboration between the two companies to develop a COVID-19 vaccine candidates using the measles virus vector platform.

In March, Themis joined a consortium with the Institut Pasteur and The Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh, supported by funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, to develop the candidate targeting SARS-CoV-2.

“Building on the pioneering work of the Institut Pasteur, the Themis team has established specialized expertise that complements Merck’s own capabilities in the discovery, development, manufacturing and global distribution of vaccines,” Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter, president, Merck Research Laboratories, said. “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.”

In connection to the deal, Istitut Pasteur, CEPI and Merck have entered into a memorandum of understanding that reflects their commitment to address the pandemic by developing, manufacturing and distributing the vaccine globally at an affordable price when available.

“This acquisition by Merck, a global leader in vaccine development, reflects Themis’ success in applying our versatile immune-modulation platform that builds on the original discoveries from the Institut Pasteur,” said Dr. Erich Tauber, chief executive officer, Themis. “We are excited for the next phase of our relationship with Merck and in the near-term look forward to focusing resources toward the development and global scale-up of our candidate SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.”

The CEPI investments helped advance Themis’ technology platform and associated programs focused on SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

“I am delighted that the vaccine technology initially developed at the Institut Pasteur, and enhanced in partnership with Themis, will now be leveraged by Merck to develop candidate vaccines designed to prevent and control emerging infectious diseases, notably COVID-19. This is an exciting and impactful development for global public health,” Professor Stewart Cole, president of Institut Pasteur, said.