Merck said it is set to begin studies of its oral coronavirus treatment as soon as September. The company made the announcement on Friday as it released its second-quarter earnings report.

The studies of the therapeutic are being done in conjunction with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. The oral treatment, MK-4482, is currently in Phase 2 trials. If approved, it would be used to halt the virus in early stages while reducing the severity and the need for hospitalization.

Merck has also entered into a collaboration with IAVI to develop V590 – a COVID-19 vaccine that uses a recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus platform – the same platform Merek used in its approved Ebola Zaire virus vaccine. The vaccine candidate is in preclinical development, with clinical studies planned to start later in the year.

“We are conscious of our abiding responsibility to help advance vaccine and antiviral efforts as part of the global response to SARS-CoV-2 and to ensure broad, equitable and affordable global access to any medicines and vaccines we bring forward,” Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and CEO at Merck, said in a statement.

“This pandemic underscores the essential role of Merck and the biopharmaceutical industry in addressing the world’s greatest health challenges and underscores the importance of a health care ecosystem that incentivizes risk-taking and innovation. Ultimately, scientific and medical knowledge will help overcome this ongoing global pandemic – and that is why we must continue to trust and invest in breakthrough science.”

Merck reported $3 billion in second quarter earnings, or $1.18 per share, compared to $2.67 billion, or $1.03, per share in the year ago quarter. Worldwide sales totaled $10.9 billion, down 8%, from 2019's $11.8 billion, reflecting the negative impact of COVID-19.

The U.S. has reported more than 4.49 million positive coronavirus cases, with more than 152,000 COVID-19 deaths as of Friday morning, Johns Hopkins University said.

Tests are still being done around the world in a hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine -- US survivor Michael Flor was lucky enough to have insurance after receiving a $1.1 million bill for his treatment Tests are still being done around the world in a hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine -- US survivor Michael Flor was lucky enough to have insurance after receiving a $1.1 million bill for his treatment Photo: AFP / BEN STANSALL