Merck and GSK Team on Renal Cancer Combo Drug

Pharmaceutical giant Merck announced that it has launched a clinical trial that evaluates a combination of its own drug with one of Glaxo-SmithKline’s oral drugs to fight advanced renal cell cancer.

Merck’s new offering is an investigational anti-PD-1 immunotherapy called MK-3475, along with Glaxo SmithKline’s orally administered kinase inhibitor, pazopanib.

Iain Dukes, senior vice president for licensing and external scientific affairs at Merck, said, “We look forward to initiating further collaborations to investigate MK-3475 in combination with other anticancer agents across a range of tumor types.”

Industry website Fierce Biotech said the anti-PD (programmed cell death) drug would be a “badly” needed commodity, if successful. “Under growing pressure from Wall Street, which has come to expect … disappointment, delay and failure from Merck over the past few years, the pharma giant is circling its best research wagons around this PD-1 immunotherapy drug,” Fierce Biotech stated on its website.

By blocking PD-1, MK-3475 allows the body’s immune system T cells to act against cancer cells.

Glaxo SmithKline’s pazopanib, marketed as Votrient, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma in October 2009 and is now approved in more than 80 countries.

Renal cell carcinoma is one of the targets that Merck is tackling in an ambitious series of clinical trials. According to a profile of the drug published by Fierce Biotech, MK-3475 is being studied in 10 clinical trials that are estimated to enroll more than 4000 patients across a broad range of cancer types. In 2014, these include renal cell, bladder, colorectal, gastric, head and neck, melanoma, non-small cell lung, triple-negative breast, pancreatic, and hematologic cancers. For information on Merck’s clinical trials, visit