Merck expects interim data on COVID-19 drug in first quarter

Feb 4 (Reuters) - U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co Inc said on Thursday it was expecting early data from a trial of the experimental antiviral drug it was developing with Ridgeback Bio as early as the first quarter.

The company has decided to focus on therapeutics after its two COVID-19 vaccines failed to generate desired immune responses, prompting it to abandon the program last week.

The antiviral is being currently tested in a Phase 2/3 trial that is set to be completed in May, but initial results could be reported by the first quarter, said Dean Li, head of the company’s research and development division.

Li also said the drug still needed to be tested to see if it was effective against the new variants of the novel coronavirus, but predicted that it would work on all types, based on its mechanism of action.

The most concerning new variants of the novel coronavirus currently are the so-called British, South African and Brazilian, all of which appear to spread more swiftly than others.

Merck expects to make 10 million courses of the antiviral, molnupiravir, by the end of 2021, Li said at a conference call to discuss the company’s quarterly earnings. (Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)