May 26 (UPI) -- U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck on Tuesday jumped into the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, announcing three separate efforts through collaborations and a corporate acquisition.
Merck said it's collaborating with non-profit IAVI to develop a vaccine against the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19.
The vaccine candidate, now in pre-clinical studies, is being designed and engineered by IAVI scientists and Merck will manage its regulatory approval process, the company said. It uses the same recombinant viral vectoring, or rVSV, technology as Merck's successful Ebola Zaire virus vaccine Ervebo.
The drugmaker also said it's signed an agreement with the U.S. government's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to provide initial funding support.
"Merck and IAVI are eager to combine our respective strengths to accelerate development of an rVSV vaccine candidate, with the goal of blunting the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic," Dr. Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said in a statement.
Merck also said it's acquired Austrian biotechnology company Themis, which is jointly developing a COVID-19 vaccine candidate with France's Pasteur Institute and the University of Pittsburgh. The effort is supported by funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global research foundation based in Norway,
Additionally, Merck said it's forged a vaccine collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, a Miami-based biotech firm focused on emerging infectious diseases. Under the deal, they will jointly develop the vaccine candidate "EIDD-2801," which is in early clinical development phases.
Merck joins an expanding field of vaccine candidates, several of which are already in human clinical trials.
U.S. firm Novavax said Tuesday it's entered clinical trials for a potential vaccine and expects first results within weeks.