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Merck & Co signs cancer vaccines research deal for Keytruda

Will work on range of personalised vaccines to complement its blockbuster

Merck & CoMerck & Co has signed a new research collaboration to develop personalised cancer vaccines that would work alongside its immuno-oncology drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

The deal with Moderna Therapeutics will see it use the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company's novel messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccine technology.

The partners will harness this in pursuit of 'individually tailored' cancer vaccines for patients across a 'spectrum of cancers', and say the turnaround time for such vaccines would be a matter of weeks.

Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories “Combining immunotherapy with vaccine technology may be a new path toward improving outcomes for patients.

“We believe that working with Moderna to combine an immuno-oncology approach, using Keytruda, with mRNA-based personalised cancer vaccines may have the potential to transform the treatment of cancer.”

Keytruda is currently approved for indications including non-small cell lung cancer and skin cancer, and the deal with Moderna could help it gain an edge over Bristol-Myers Squibb's rival immuno-oncology drug Opdivo (ipilimumab).

Moderna's mRNA vaccine technology uses the unique mutations present in a patient's tumour to provoke a specific immune response to recognise and destroy cancer cells.

The companies said they believe that by working in this way mRNA-based cancer vaccines could be synergistic with checkpoint inhibitor therapies, including Merck's anti-PD-1 drug Keytuda.

As part of the deal Merck will make an upfront cash payment to Moderna of $200m, which Moderna will use to lead all research and development efforts through proof of concept.

The development programme will then involve multiple studies in several types of cancer, and include the evaluation of mRNA-based personalised cancer vaccines in combination with Merck's Keytruda. 

Article by
Dominic Tyer

30th June 2016

From: Research

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