Merck & Co., GlaxoSmithKline partner on MK-3475, Votrient combination in renal cancer

Merck & Co. entered a collaboration to study its experimental anti-PD-1 immunotherapy MK-3475 with GlaxoSmithKline's oral kinase inhibitor Votrient (pazopanib) in advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC), Merck reported Wednesday. "Collaborations like this are central to Merck's strategy to evaluate the potential of MK-3475 for the treatment of cancer," remarked Iain Dukes, senior vice president of Licensing and External Scientific Affairs at Merck Research Laboratories.

Under the terms of agreement, the drugmakers will conduct a Phase I/II trial to assess the efficacy and safety of MK-3475 in combination with Votrient in treatment-naïve patients with advanced RCC. The companies will also under take studies of MK-3475 in combination with other products in GlaxoSmithKline's portfolio in the future. Further details of the collaboration were not disclosed.

Last month, Merck announced that MK-3475 significantly prolonged survival in a Phase I study of patients with advanced melanoma. The company added that the immunotherapy is being studied in 10 clinical trials for several malignancies including bladder, colorectal, gastric and renal cell cancers. For related analysis, read ViewPoints: New data give credibility to Merck & Co.'s bullishness in PD-1 race and Spotlight On: Scrutiny increases on Merck & Co.'s R&D capabilities as company receives three analyst downgrades.

Votrient was cleared by the FDA in 2009 for the treatment of advanced RCC and conditionally approved for the same indication in Europe in 2010. The drug later received approval from the US regulator for the treatment of advanced soft tissue sarcoma, as well as clearance in the EU. Votrient is currently available in more than 80 countries.

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