Merck takes huge hit for its abandoned COVID-19 drug efforts

May 6, 2021, 9:31 AM UTC

Merck & Co. is taking a $170 million charge after discontinuing development of an experimental drug tested in patients hospitalized with severe and critical Covid cases, the company said in a quarterly filing.

In April, the drug giant announced that it was scrapping the intravenous therapy, called MK-7110, which was acquired in a $425 million deal in late November. The company had clinched a $356 million deal with the U.S. in December to deliver as many as 100,000 doses of MK-7110 by the end of June.

U.S. regulators told Merck early in 2021 that results from a small study weren’t sufficient to seek clearance for the drug. At first, that prompted discussions about launching a new, large late-stage trial, according to Nick Kartsonis, senior vice president of clinical research for infectious diseases and vaccines at Merck Research Laboratories.

But Merck announced on April 15 that it would abandon the intravenous product since it wouldn’t have been available until the first half of 2022 because of additional research required to prove it works.

The protracted timeline and the need to focus on development for another drug, an antiviral pill called molnupiravir, were driving factors in abandoning development of the drug, Merck said. The company will no longer receive U.S. funding for supply, given the agreement was contingent on regulatory clearance.

The charge will be accounted for in Merck’s first-quarter cost of sales, according to the filing Wednesday.

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