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Merck, ISB Collaborating on COVID-19 Drug, Vaccine Target Discovery

NEW YORK – Merck and the Institute for Systems Biology said Monday that they have formed a research collaboration to identify new targets for potential COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines. The partners will be looking to uncover and define the molecular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 development. 

This collaboration supports a recently introduced trial led by ISB and Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, both of which are under the Providence St. Joseph Health umbrella.  

Researchers will analyze blood samples and nasal swabs collected from 200 to 300 Swedish Medical Center patients by running proteomic, metabolomic, transcriptomic, and genetic tests and analyses in search of potential biomarkers to predict the risk of developing severe symptoms. They also will be looking to create profiles of immune response to the novel coronavirus by examining changes in immune cells in infected patients as well as antibodies present in convalescent patients.  

Merck is providing research funding, backed by a grant for an unspecified amount from the US Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the Kenilworth, New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant said.  

"We launched this trial with the urgent need to improve our understanding of COVID-19," ISB President Jim Heath said in a statement"By applying the full power of our systems biology capabilities, we hope to gain important insights into the molecular basis for the dramatically contrasting outcomes observed for patients infected with SARS-CoV-2." 

Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said that understanding molecular characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 infection and immune response to the coronavirus is "essential to the development of effective interventions." 

Also participating in the research are Stanford University, Adaptive Biotechnologies, Bloodworks Northwest, Isoplexis, Metabolon, NanostringOlink, Providence Molecular Genomics Laboratory, Scisco Genetics, and 10x Genomics. 

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