UPDATED: NewLink, Merck sign Ebola vaccine licensing pact

To scale up production of its Ebola vaccine, NewLink Genetics ($NLNK) is going to need some manufacturing help. And for that, it's turning to vaccine giant Merck ($MRK).

Ebolavirus under an electron microscope--Courtesy of CDC

The two companies have entered into an exclusive licensing agreement to research, develop, manufacture, and distribute NewLink's prospect, the companies said Monday. 

As a source told Bloomberg last week, Merck has production technology, dubbed Vero, that it could use to up the vaccine's manufacturing capacity. The technique, which the New Jersey pharma giant already uses to make rotavirus vaccine RotaTeq, uses cells from African green monkeys, the news service notes.

"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," NewLink CEO Charles Link said in a statement.

NewLink's prospect, known as VSV-EBOV, is currently in Phase I trials that began in October at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, MD. And last week, Canada--which developed the vaccine before licensing it to NewLink in 2010–began a domestic trial of the vaccine at its its national microbiology laboratory. The Iowa-based company has said it could churn out 12 million doses on its own by next April, depending on the amount of vaccine needed to generate an immune response, Bloomberg says.

This isn't Merck's first go-around with an Ebola candidate, the news service points out. Merck's vaccines business once included a unit that later became Okairos AG, which was researching its own Ebola jab. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) later snapped up Okrairos, and it's now trialing that prospect in the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland and Mali.

Aside from NewLink and Glaxo, a host of other companies are working on their own experimental shots to guard against the deadly virus. Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Novavax ($NVAX) and Profectus Biosciences developing traditional jabs, and a team at the University of Texas at Austin is developing an inhalable vaccine.

- read the release
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Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a press release and a statement from NewLink CEO Charles Link.