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Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer join forces

Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer have announced the creation of independent body, the Asian Cancer Research Group (ACRG)

Leading pharmaceutical companies, Eli Lilly & Company, Merck and Pfizer, have announced they are to combine their resources and expertise in the creation of the Asian Cancer Research Group (ACRG) — an independent, not-for-profit company focusing on accelerating research and improving treatment for the most common diagnosed cancers in Asia.

According to a statement by Lilly: 'The ACRG's formation represents a prime example of a growing trend in pre-competitive collaboration in which large pharmaceutical companies combine their resources and expertise to rapidly increase knowledge of disease and disease processes. The goal of the ACRG is to improve the knowledge of cancers prevalent in Asia and to accelerate drug discovery efforts by freely sharing the resulting data with the scientific community.'

The company will direct its initial focus to lung and gastric cancers, two of the most common forms of the disease in Asia, with both cancers requiring different treatments to those taken in the West.

The EGFR mutation, a relatively rare condition in the West, affects nearly 40 per cent of lung cancer patients in Asia, resulting in different responses to some types of agents and demonstrating a need for further research and development approaches.

Gastric cancer is also a significantly greater problem in Asia than in the West, with the disease approaching epidemic proportions in some Asian countries. There are 803,000 deaths each year from the disease worldwide according to the WHO.

"Environmental and genetic factors are believed to underlie the dramatic differences in the molecular subtypes and incidence of cancers in Asia and other parts of the world," said Dr Neil Gibson, chief scientific officer of Pfizer's Oncology Research Unit. "Although some progress has been achieved in the last few years in understanding and treating these cancers, they remain a huge unmet need and a disproportionate health burden to Asian patients."

As part of the ACRG's research, an extensive pharmacogenomic cancer database will be created, with plans over the next two years to collect data from approximately 2,000 tissue samples from patients with lung and gastric cancer. These data will be made publicly available to researchers, with future clinical data from a longitudinal analysis of patients to be added over time.

Lilly has assumed responsibility for making the research public through an open-source concept managed by the company's Singapore research site. Lilly, Merck and Pfizer will each provide technical and intellectual expertise.

"The ACRG is about sharing information for the common good," said vice president and leader of drug development in China for Lilly, Dr Kerry Blanchard, who represented Lilly in the ACRG's formation. "This company will aid researchers around the world to develop diagnostics, tailor current treatments and develop novel therapies to improve outcomes for affected patients with lung, gastric and perhaps other forms of cancer."

23rd February 2010

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