Another giant pharmaceutical company has thrown its hat into the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development ring: Merck (MRK 0.24%), which has up until now been quiet on the pandemic front. Meanwhile, its big pharma peers including GlaxoSmithKline (GSK 0.22%), AstraZeneca (AZN -0.18%), and Pfizer (PFE -0.97%) have signed numerous deals and reported significant progress on various vaccine programs.

Merck may have been slow to join the fight, but now, it's making up for lost time by acquiring one vaccine developer and initiating collaborations with two other organizations working on COVID-19 solutions.

A handshake

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Vaccine and antiviral deals 

Merck has agreed to acquire Themis, a company developing vaccines and immunotherapies to treat infectious diseases and cancer. Themis has a pipeline of new drug candidates, including a potential vaccine that uses a measles-based viral vector to deliver SARS-CoV-2 antigens so your immune system will be able to rapidly recognize the real thing and shut down the coronavirus before it blossoms into a full COVID-19 infection.

It will take a much different approach with IAVI, a nonprofit research organization. Together, they will develop a vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 that employs the same recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus technology that underpins Merck's FDA-approved Ebola vaccine, Ervebo.

Merck will also collaborate with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, a privately held biotech that's developing an oral antiviral treatment called EIDD-2801 for the treatment of COVID-19. The experimental drug has proven itself safe in a trial with healthy volunteers and clinical testing with COVID-19 patients has already started.