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Pfizer and Merck expand anti-PD1 cancer alliance

Will investigate combination of pembrolizumab and Xalkori
Merck and Co - US headquarters

Merck & Co's PD1 targeting pembrolizumab will be tested alongside Pfizer's Xalkori in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

The two pharma heavyweights will look at the combination of pembrolizumab and ALK inhibitor Xalkori (crizotinib) in a phase Ib trial involving patients with advanced or metastatic ALK-positive NSCLC that is due to start next year.

Pfizer's chief medical officer Mace Rothenberg, said that understanding the effects of combining the two drugs "is vital if we are to continue to advance the care of lung cancer patients."

Separately, pembrolizumab will also be tested alongside Pfizer's PF-05082566 (PF-2566), an investigational immuno-oncology agent that targets the cell cycle-regulating 4-1BB receptor, in multiple tumour types.

The two companies are already testing the drug in combination with Pfizer's renal cell carcinoma therapy Inlyta (axitinib) and breast cancer and melanoma candidate palbociclib, a CDK inhibitor that is also considered a potential blockbuster.

Pembrolizumab is vying with nivolumab from Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) to become the first drug in the highly-anticipated PD1 class to reach the major global markets and has been tipped to achieve multibillion-dollar annual sales at peak. 

For its part, Pfizer's drug is fast emerging as a major force in NSCLC treatment, achieving sales of a little under $200m in the first six months of this year, up more than 60 per cent on the same period of 2013. 

Merck and BMS have both filed for approval of their respective drugs for melanoma in the first instance, with trials ongoing in lung cancer and various other malignancies. Meanwhile, other drugs targeting the PD1 pathway include Roche's RG7446 (also known as MPDL-3280A), which has NSCLC as its lead indication and is in phase III.

Meanwhile, Merck has forged a series of partnerships with other companies in a bid to position pembrolizumab as a cornerstone of cancer immunotherapy, which is widely considered to be the next major wave in oncology in the coming years.

Just ahead of the Pfizer announcement Merck made a pact to test it alongside Advaxis' immunotherapy ADXS-PSA in patients with advanced prostate cancer, and early this year forged similar agreements for trials with Amgen's talimogene laherparepvec in melanoma, as well as Incyte's INCB24360, an indoleamine 2, 3-dioxygenase inhibitor, in NSCLC.

Meanwhile, for Pfizer the combination studies will help its non-immunotherapeutic drugs stay relevant as the oncology market shifts towards the new treatment approach.

27th August 2014

From: Research

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