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Merck and Lilly enter Keytruda collaboration

Will research anti-PD-1 cancer therapy as part of combination treatment
Merck and Lilly enter Keytruda collaboration

Merck & Co has agreed a deal with Lilly to research combination cancer treatments involving Merck's promising immunotherapy Keytruda.

The two companies will investigate several different regimens that put Keytruda (pembrolizumab) – part of the highly anticipated anti-PD-1 class of cancer immunotherapies – together with a cancer compound in Lilly's portfolio.

The companies confirmed three study programmes that will take place as part of the collaboration, including a phase II study combining Keytruda and Lilly's Alimta (pemetrexed) in lung cancer.

A second lung cancer study – this time phase I/II – will combine Keytruda with investigational drug necitumumab, while the pairing of Keytruda and Cyramza (ramucirumab) will be investigated in multiple cancers in phase I/II trials.

Additional details, including financial terms of the deal, were not disclosed.

The collaboration highlights the importance of Keytruda to Merck's growth plans. The drug is one of the most advanced drugs in the anti-PD-1 class, and became the first such product approved in the US when it received FDA backing to treatment melanoma patients in September 2014.

Since its launch in the US the drug has been gaining traction in the melanoma market, with Merck reporting in October 2014 that it was already being used to treat around 900 out of the total 1,200 US melanoma patients that meet the criteria on the drug's label.

The drug's main rival has so far been Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo (nivolumab), which was approved by the FDA in December 2014.

Other drugs in the class include Roche 's MPDL-3280A and candidates from AstraZeneca, Novartis and Merck Serono.

All anti-PD-1 medicines are designed to expose tumours to attack by blocking a pathway that restricts the body's immune system from attacking cancer cells.

Keytruda has received Breakthrough Therapy designation from the FDA for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer who have progressed following platinum containing chemotherapy, while Merck is also investigating its potential in breast cancer.

Article by
Thomas Meek

15th January 2015

From: Research

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