The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, together with Merck, will be evaluating the latter’s anti-PD-1 treatment, Keytruda (pembrolizumab), when administered in combination with other anti-cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and/or today’s newer anti-tumor drugs.
According to the terms of this strategic collaboration, MD Anderson and Merck will be conducting studies on the following types of tumors over a span of 3 years: gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, and hepatocellular carcinoma. The first series of research initiatives are set to open participant enrolment towards the latter part of 2015.
The collaboration plans to identify which therapeutic combination will be most compatible and beneficial with Keytruda to address these tumors. The clinical studies will be carried out simultaneously and will make use of the latest monitoring protocols and built-in flexibility in order to analyze results as timely as possible.
“Through these types of collaborations, we are able to engage in larger, more comprehensive studies that aim to accelerate the pace of discovery,” said Patrick Hwu, M.D., division head, Cancer Medicine at MD Anderson. “We believe that this new agreement will help to speed delivery of new cancer treatments that our patients expect and deserve.”
“This agreement embodies Merck’s commitment to collaborating with leaders in the field to rapidly advance breakthrough science and further the goal of bringing new treatment approaches to patients,” said Dr. Roger Dansey, senior vice president and therapeutic area head, oncology late-stage development, Merck Research Laboratories. “Agreements like this are an integral part of our strategy to evaluate KEYTRUDA in multiple tumors and combinations.”
MD Anderson has long since been an indispensable leader in cancer research, and contributed significantly to Keytruda’s approval as a treatment for several types of tumors. This is not the first time the cancer center and Merck will be working together as their partnership proved crucial in Keytruda’s FDA approval for unresectable metastatic melanoma.
Keytruda, a humanized monoclonal antibody that works by blocking activity between PD-1 and ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2, is available in the United States as a 2 mg/kg intravenous solution, administered over 30 minutes, every 3 weeks for patients diagnosed with unresectable or metastatic melanoma and disease progression following ipilimumab and, if BRAF V600 mutation positive, a BRAF inhibitor.
At present, Merck is forming a large and accelerated clinical development program for the drug with over 100 clinical trials – testing on 30 tumor types and enrolling more than 16,000 patients – both as a monotherapy and in combination with other therapies.