BioLineRx signed an agreement with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to investigate how its candidate drug BL-8040 interacts with Merck‘s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) to treat pancreatic cancer.
The study will be conducted as an investigator-sponsored study and part of a strategic clinical research collaboration between Merck and MD Anderson Cancer Center. Merck and MD Anderson Cancer Center are already involved in a strategic clinical research collaboration to evaluate the effect of Keytruda in combination with various other treatments and drug candidates.
“We are very excited that Merck and MD Anderson Cancer Center selected BL-8040 to be tested under their collaboration. This will be the second study planned for investigating the combination of BL-8040 and KEYTRUDA, which further validates the potential of combining the two for the treatment of metastatic pancreatic cancer patients,” said Dr. Kinneret Savitsky, chief executive officer of BioLineRx, in a press release.
Savitsky believes that the combination of BL-8040 with KEYTRUDA has the potential to expand the benefit of immunotherapy to cancer types currently resistant to immuno-oncology treatments such as pancreatic cancer.
BL-8040 is a short peptide developed for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia, solid tumors, and certain hematological conditions. It works by blocking the action of a receptor called CXCR4 that is involved in tumor progression and metastasis. Previous research has shown that molecules that bind to and block the action of CXCR4 may be effective in inducing the infiltration of anti-tumor T-cells into the tumor.
In contrast, Keytruda blocks the interaction between the PD-1 receptor found on the surface of T-cells and its ligands PD-L1 and PD-L2 which allows a proper T-cell activation and tumor targeting.
The two compounds combined could be more potent against tumors with Keytruda activating T-cells and BL-8040 facilitating their infiltration within the tumor microenvironment.
The open label Phase 2 study is expected to start later this year.
The company is also planning a separate Phase 2a clinical trial called the COMBAT trial that will focus on the clinical efficacy of BL-8040 in combination with Keytruda in pancreatic cancer. This study is expected to start in the third quarter of 2016 once the company receives regulatory approval.