Merck is looking to establish even more value for its PD-L1 inhibitor immunotherapy, Keytruda. The company plans to combine Keytruda with a Genexine-developed vaccine to determine whether the combo is effective against certain types of cervical cancer.
Merck’s cancer immunotherapy drug will be combined with the biotech’s cancer vaccine, GX-188E, in a clinical trial of HPV-induced cervical cancer. Merck plans to begin with a Phase Ib/IIa clinical trial, with the possibility of expansion to a Phase III study.
The collaboration is just the latest in a long line of pair-ups among pharmaceutical and biotech companies looking to combine immunotherapy and cancer vaccines. When used as a monotherapy, Merck’s Keytruda is able to elicit a 12.5 percent response rate in advanced cervical squamous cell cancer. According to Genexine, based in South Korea, the checkpoint inhibitor drug could compliment their cancer vaccine, potentially improving response rates.
Merck and Genexine plan to start their clinical trial in early 2017, with an initial recruitment of up to 40 patients. Genexine’s GX-188E vaccine is also being developed in Phase II clinical trials of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, as well as in a Phase I trial for HPV-associated cancers.
Merck isn’t the only pharmaceutical company looking to collaborate on these combination therapies. Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca have combined their immunotherapy drugs with cancer vaccines from Bavarian Nordic and Inovio, respectively. Success in this space could mean the development of a blockbuster combination.