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Lilly, BMS and Merck unite for cancer trials

Published on 13/01/15 at 05:21pm
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Lilly will test some of its compounds in combination with rival cancer drugs from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck, the companies have announced.

The trials will look at BMS’ Opdivo (nivolumab) and Merck’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) in combination with a variety of Lilly’s offerings. The two drugs are competitors to one another and are in fact also rivals to several of Lilly’s compounds.

Opdivo and Keytruda are PD-1 (programmed death-1) antibodies, a promising new type of cancer treatment that gives the body’s immune system more chance of recognising and killing cancerous cells.

“Combination therapies will be key to addressing tumour heterogeneity and the inevitable resistance that is likely to develop to even the most promising new tailored therapies,” says Richard Gaynor, Lilly Oncology’s senior VP of product development and medical affairs.

“To that end, having multiple cancer pathways and technology platforms will be critical in an era of combinations to ensure sustainability beyond any single asset.”

BMS collaboration

BMS’s Opdivo (nivolumab) will be tested in combination with Lilly’s galunisertib (LY2157299) in a Phase I/II trial conducted by Lilly into patients with advanced brain tumours, liver cancer and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Galunisertib works by blocking TGF beta signals, which can promote tumour growth and suppress the immune system.

In a statement the companies say that the trial will address the hypothesis that inhibiting both PD-1 and TGF beta negative signals together, may lead to better anti-tumour immune responses than either method alone.

Opdivo is so far only indicated for melanoma, but promising trial results have set it on a good course for approval for the treatment of NSCLC in the near future.

Keytruda trials

NSCLC will also be the focus of two of the trials combining Keytruda with Lilly’s own lung cancer treatments – with Merck’s medicine also awaiting the nod for the indication.

One will be a Phase II study conducted by Merck combining the drug with Lilly’s Alimta (pemetrexed) – which was rejected by NICE early last year and has recently been dropped from the Cancer Drugs Fund in England. 

The other trial will be a Phase I/II study by Lilly investigating it in combination with necitumumab.

Another trial conducted by Lilly will test the drug’s efficacy in multiple tumors in combination with Cyramza (ramucirumab), which was given the green light by the FDA last month.

“Our understanding of the immune system's role and its impact in the treatment of cancer continues to grow," says Eric Rubin, vice president of global clinical development, oncology at Merck Research Laboratories.

"Collaborations such as this one are important in advancing the investigation of novel immuno-oncology combinations in different cancers.”

No further details of either collaboration have been announced as yet.

George Underwood

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