Merck and NewLink Genetics partner on investigational Ebola vaccine

Clinical development, manufacturing expertise and scale deemed critical to success

Lloyd Dunlap
WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. and AMES, Iowa—Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, and NewLink Genetics Corporation have entered into an exclusive worldwide license agreement to research, develop, manufacture and distribute NewLink's investigational rVSV-EBOV (Ebola) vaccine candidate.
 
The vaccine candidate, originally developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), is currently being evaluated in Phase 1 clinical trials. Pending the results, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced plans to initiate, in early 2015, a large randomized, controlled Phase 3 study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the rVSV-EBOV vaccine and another investigational Ebola vaccine co-developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and GlaxoSmithKline.
 
"Effective Ebola vaccines will be a critical component of comprehensive prevention and control measures for people at risk of Ebola virus infection and to stem future outbreaks globally," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, president of Merck Vaccines. "Merck is committed to applying our vaccine expertise to address important global health needs and, through our collaboration with NewLink, we hope to advance the public health response to this urgent international health priority."
 
According to Dr. Charles Link, chairman and chief executive officer of NewLink Genetics, "Merck's vaccine development expertise, commercial leadership and history of successful strategic alliances make it an ideal partner to expedite the development of rVSV-EBOV and, if demonstrated to be efficacious and well-tolerated, to make it available to individuals and communities at risk of Ebola virus infection around the world."
 
Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will be granted the exclusive rights to the rVSV-EBOV vaccine candidate as well as any follow-on products. The vaccine candidate is under an exclusive licensing arrangement with a wholly owned subsidiary of NewLink Genetics. Under these license arrangements, the PHAC retains non-commercial rights pertaining to the vaccine candidate.
 
Phase 1 clinical trials of the rVSV-EBOV vaccine are now underway at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the NIAID at the NIH. Additional Phase 1 studies are underway or planned to begin in the near future at clinical research centers in Switzerland, Germany, Kenya, and Gabon in a World Health Organization-coordinated effort, and in Canada by the Canadian Immunization Research Network.
 
"This vaccine is the result of years of hard work and innovation by Canadian scientists. We are pleased that this new alliance coupled with the clinical trials currently underway will further strengthen the possibility that the vaccine will make a difference in the global response to the Ebola outbreak," said Canada's Minister of Health, Rona Ambrose.
 
The  rVSV vaccine platform is based on an attenuated strain of vesicular stomatitis virus that has been modified to express an Ebola virus protein that plays an essential role in establishing virus infection. The rVSV-EBOV vaccine was created by scientists at the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory. A significant portion of the funding for the further development of the vaccine came from the CBRN Research and Technology Initiative, a federal program led by Defence Research and Development Canada. In 2010, the PHAC signed a licensing arrangement with BioProtection Systems (BPS), a wholly owned subsidiary of NewLink Genetics, as the sole licensee for these vaccines and the underlying technology. BPS has worked with the PHAC to produce clinical trial materials and to move this vaccine candidate into Phase 1 studies.
 
Merck is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. Merck is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada. Through the company’s prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and animal health products, it operates in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions.
 
NewLink is a biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing and commercializing novel immuno-oncology products to improve treatment options for patients with cancer. NewLink's portfolio includes biologic and small molecule immunotherapy product candidates intended to treat a wide range of oncology indications. NewLink's product candidates are designed to harness multiple components of the immune system to combat cancer without significant incremental toxicity, either as a monotherapy or in combination with other treatment regimens. BioProtection Systems is a wholly owned subsidiary of NewLink Genetics Corporation.

Lloyd Dunlap

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