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Merck adds another immuno-oncology tie-up

Firm to test Keytruda with Syndax’s entinostat in melanoma and NSCLC

merck-keytruda-pembrolizumab-melanoma 

The immuno-oncology land grab continues apace, with Merck & Co signing yet another deal to test its PD1 inhibitor Keytruda alongside emerging cancer drugs.

Merck has reached an agreement to test Keytruda (pembrolizumab) alongside Syndax's histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor entinostat in phase Ib/II trials in melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), with a view to progressing quickly to full-blown phase III studies.

Entinostat is in the same class as Novartis' recently approved panobinostat, which is indicated to treat multiple myeloma, as well as Merck & Co's lymphoma therapy vorinostat that debuted in 2006. HDAC inhibitors are designed to drive the re-expression of silenced genes, including those that encode tumour-suppressing proteins, in cancer cells.

Syndax is carrying out phase III trials of entinostat in hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, and the company has been awarded breakthrough status by the FDA for the drug in that indication.

The new deal reinforces the view that PD1 inhibitor such as Keytruda and Opdivo (nivolumab) from Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) show the most potential when used in combination with other cancer therapies.

New collaborations in the immuno-oncology sector are happening almost every week at the moment, as companies jostle for position in an emerging market that is predicted to eventually reach tens of billions of dollars a year. 

The last few weeks have seen Merck KGaA subsidiary Merck Serono sign a $941m tie up with Intrexon, Novartis forge a $750m alliance with Aduro, and BMS link up with Bavarian Nordic and Flexus.  

Leerink analyst Seamus Fernandez said recently that the immuno-oncology market could reach $40bn in yearly sales within the next 10 years. 

The accelerating growth is being driven by the huge number of patients desperate for more effective therapies but also high prices - with Opdivo and Keytruda both costing in the region of $150,000 a year - and there are growing concerns that healthcare systems around the world will struggle to pay for the new treatments.

Article by
Phil Taylor

1st April 2015

From: Research

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