Merck and Institute for Systems Biology Collaborate to Define Molecular Mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 Infection and Identify Potential Prognostic Biomarkers

KENILWORTH, NJ & SEATTLE, WA, USA I April 27, 2020 I Merck (NYSE: MRK), known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, and the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), today announced a new research collaboration to investigate and define the molecular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 and identify targets for medicines and vaccines. Merck has also entered into an agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for BARDA to provide funding support for this research effort under Contract No. HHSO100201600031C. Findings generated from the study will be made available to the worldwide scientific and biomedical community.

“This collaboration with Merck provides critical support for the recently launched scientific trial being co-led by ISB and Swedish Medical Center, both part of the Providence St. Joseph Health network. We launched this trial with the urgent need to improve our understanding of COVID-19,” said Dr. Jim Heath, President, ISB. “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.”

Through this collaboration, scientists from ISB, health workers from the Swedish Medical Center, and a consortium of research organizations and biomedical companies will analyze blood samples and nasal swabs from Swedish Medical Center patients with SARS-CoV-2 using samples from several time points (initial presentation, acute illness and convalescence). Blood samples will be examined using proteomic, metabolomic, transcriptomics and genetic techniques to evaluate the impact of infection on different organs, and to identify potential biomarkers to predict the risk of severe disease. In addition, samples will be analyzed to create a profile of the immune response, including quantitative changes in immune cells in patients following SARS CoV-2 infection and characterization of neutralizing antibodies in samples from convalescent patients. These insights can be used to inform vaccine design and antibody therapy. Under the agreement, Merck will provide research funding and work with researchers at ISB to characterize targets for potential therapeutic intervention and vaccine development. The study will initially analyze samples from 200 patients with the potential to expand to 300.

“Understanding the molecular characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and of the immune response to this virus, is essential to the development of effective interventions,” said Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter, president, Merck Research Laboratories. “We are eager to advance this work with ISB, and to share our findings with the broader scientific community. Interdicting the COVID-19 pandemic presents a daunting global health challenge, demanding unprecedented collaboration across the international scientific and medical communities to which we are proud to contribute.”

The principal investigators of the study are ISB’s Heath and Dr. Jason D. Goldman, Swedish Medical Center. Initial funding support for the study came from the Wilke Family Foundation, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Swedish Foundation, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, and Washington State Andy Hill CARE Fund. Other research collaborators on the study include Stanford University, Adaptive Biotechnologies, Bloodworks Northwest, Isoplexis, Metabolon, Nanostring, Olink, Providence Molecular Genomics Laboratory, Scisco Genetics and 10x Genomics.

Merck is a leader in infectious diseases, and has a long history of researching, developing, manufacturing and distributing medicines and vaccines. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Merck is contributing its scientific expertise to the development of antiviral approaches, and supporting healthcare providers and communities, while ensuring the safety of its employees and their families.

About Institute for Systems Biology

Institute for Systems Biology is a collaborative and cross-disciplinary non-profit biomedical research organization based in Seattle. We focus on some of the most pressing issues in human health, including brain health, cancer, sepsis and aging, as well as many chronic and infectious diseases. Our science is translational, and we champion sound scientific research that results in real-world clinical impacts. ISB is an affiliate of Providence St. Joseph Health, one of the largest not-for-profit health care systems in the United States.

About Merck

For more than 125 years, Merck, known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases in pursuit of our mission to save and improve lives. We demonstrate our commitment to patients and population health by increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, Merck continues to be at the forefront of research to prevent and treat diseases that threaten people and animals – including cancer, infectious diseases such as HIV and Ebola, and emerging animal diseases – as we aspire to be the premier research-intensive biopharmaceutical company in the world. For more information, visit and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.


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