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Merck and AstraZeneca test cancer drug combo

Merck and AstraZeneca are to collaborate to research a combination anticancer regimen composed of two investigational compounds

Merck and AstraZeneca are to collaborate to research a combination anticancer regimen composed of two investigational compounds.

The agreement marks the first time two large pharmaceutical companies have partnered to evaluate the potential for combining candidate molecules at such an early stage of development.

The drugs, MK-2206 from Merck and AZD6244 from AstraZeneca hope to join the group of targeted treatments transforming cancer care by disrupting signalling pathways that tumour cells rely on to proliferate and survive. Cancer cells have proven adept at fending off attacks of single-agent medicines, and so researchers are now exploring ways to combine treatments.

AZD6244 blocks the MEK pathway and is currently in mid-stage studies for several tumour types and has been tested in patients with skin, colorectal and lung cancers. MK-2206 inhibits the AKT pathway and has undergone phase 1 testing on solid tumours.

MEK and AKT are "two critical pathways in oncogene signalling," said Gary Gilliland, senior vice president and franchise head for oncology at Merck Research Laboratories. "If we shut down one, the other comes up to compensate." The hope is that by hitting both pathways at once "we will shut down escape routes."

Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca and Merck will work together to evaluate the co-administration of the compounds in a phase 1 clinical trial for the treatment of solid cancer tumours. The companies will share development costs. Following the phase 1 trial, the companies will consider opportunities for further clinical development. 

2nd June 2009


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