Collaboration Builds on Merck’s R&D and NanoString’s Biomarker Development Leadership Positions in Immuno-OncologyEarly Data Evaluating Immune-Related Signatures with KEYTRUDA in Multiple Cancers to be Presented for the First Time at 2015 ASCO Annual Meeting
KENILWORTH, N.J. & SEATTLE, May 28, 2015 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Merck MRK, +0.83% known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, and NanoString Technologies, Inc. NSTG, -3.00% today announced a clinical research collaboration to develop an assay that will optimize immune-related gene expression signatures and evaluate the potential to predict benefit from Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy, KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab), in multiple tumor types. The collaboration between NanoString Technologies, Inc., a provider of life science tools for translational research and molecular diagnostic products, and Merck, through a subsidiary, will utilize NanoString’s nCounter® Analysis System to optimize gene expression signatures as part of the clinical development program for KEYTRUDA.
“Our commitment to advancing the science of immuno-oncology includes pursuing cutting-edge RNA and DNA approaches to identify a range of biomarkers, such as immune-related gene expression signatures, that in addition to PD-L1 expression, may help to identify patients who may be more likely to experience improved benefit with KEYTRUDA,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, vice president and therapeutic area head, oncology early-stage development, Merck Research Laboratories. “Our collaboration with NanoString Technologies is an important advancement for our early-stage, immuno-oncology development program. Early data exploring the predictive value of the NanoString-derived gene expression signatures with KEYTRUDA will be presented at ASCO 2015.”
“We are excited to work with Merck to help direct treatment with KEYTRUDA,” said Brad Gray, president and chief executive officer of NanoString Technologies. “New approaches in immuno-oncology, like KEYTRUDA, have the potential to transform cancer care across many different tumor types. With our nCounter technology and in vitro diagnostic capability, NanoString is ideally positioned to address the critical challenge of matching patients to powerful new therapies. This collaboration with Merck complements our existing relationships with MD Anderson and the Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network, and builds on our leadership position in immuno-oncology biomarker development.”
Early Data on Immune-based Gene Expression Signatures at 2015 ASCO Annual Meeting
First-time presentations of data evaluating immune-based gene expression signatures developed using NanoString’s nCounter® Analysis System, and their correlation to patient benefit with KEYTRUDA will be presented at this year’s 51st Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (May 29-June 2, 2015 in Chicago). The early data to be presented include findings in bladder cancer (Abstract #4502), advanced melanoma (Abstract #3001), gastric cancer (Abstract #3026), and head and neck cancer (Abstract #6017). These early data are based on an initial signature, the interferon-gamma response gene, which was derived from initial findings that expression of this immune response gene predicted response to KEYTRUDA in advanced melanoma patients. Additional signatures are in development based on extension of these initial findings.
About KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab)
KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2. By binding to the PD-1 receptor and blocking the interaction with the receptor ligands, KEYTRUDA releases the PD-1 pathway-mediated inhibition of the immune response, including the anti-tumor immune response.
KEYTRUDA is indicated in the United States at a dose of 2 mg/kg administered as an intravenous infusion over 30 minutes every three weeks for the treatment of patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma and disease progression following ipilimumab and, if BRAF V600 mutation positive, a BRAF inhibitor. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. An improvement in survival or disease-related symptoms has not yet been established. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.
Merck is advancing a broad and fast-growing clinical development program for KEYTRUDA with more than 100 clinical trials – across more than 30 tumor types and enrolling more than 16,000 patients – both as a monotherapy and in combination with other therapies.
Selected Important Safety Information for KEYTRUDA
Pneumonitis occurred in 12 (2.9%) of 411 patients with advanced melanoma receiving KEYTRUDA (the approved indication in the United States), including Grade 2 or 3 cases in 8 (1.9%) and 1 (0.2%) patients, respectively. Monitor patients for signs and symptoms of pneumonitis. Evaluate suspected pneumonitis with radiographic imaging. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater pneumonitis. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 2; permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 3 or 4 pneumonitis.
Colitis (including microscopic colitis) occurred in 4 (1%) of 411 patients, including Grade 2 or 3 cases in 1 (0.2%) and 2 (0.5%) patients respectively, receiving KEYTRUDA. Monitor patients for signs and symptoms of colitis. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater colitis. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 2 or 3; permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 4 colitis.
Hepatitis (including autoimmune hepatitis) occurred in 2 (0.5%) of 411 patients, including a Grade 4 case in 1 (0.2%) patient, receiving KEYTRUDA. Monitor patients for changes in liver function. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater hepatitis and, based on severity of liver enzyme elevations, withhold or discontinue KEYTRUDA.
Hypophysitis occurred in 2 (0.5%) of 411 patients, including a Grade 2 case in 1 and a Grade 4 case in 1 (0.2% each) patient, receiving KEYTRUDA. Monitor for signs and symptoms of hypophysitis. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater hypophysitis. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 2; withhold or discontinue for Grade 3; and permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 4 hypophysitis.
Nephritis occurred in 3 (0.7%) patients receiving KEYTRUDA, consisting of one case of Grade 2 autoimmune nephritis (0.2%) and two cases of interstitial nephritis with renal failure (0.5%), one Grade 3 and one Grade 4. Monitor patients for changes in renal function. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater nephritis. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 2; permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 3 or 4 nephritis.
Hyperthyroidism occurred in 5 (1.2%) of 411 patients, including Grade 2 or 3 cases in 2 (0.5%) and 1 (0.2%) patients respectively, receiving KEYTRUDA. Hypothyroidism occurred in 34 (8.3%) of 411 patients, including a Grade 3 case in 1 (0.2%) patient, receiving KEYTRUDA. Thyroid disorders can occur at any time during treatment. Monitor patients for changes in thyroid function (at the start of treatment, periodically during treatment, and as indicated based on clinical evaluation) and for clinical signs and symptoms of thyroid disorders. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 3 or greater hyperthyroidism. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 3; permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 4 hyperthyroidism. Isolated hypothyroidism may be managed with replacement therapy without treatment interruption and without corticosteroids.
Other clinically important immune-mediated adverse reactions can occur. The following clinically significant, immune-mediated adverse reactions occurred in less than 1% of patients treated with KEYTRUDA: exfoliative dermatitis, uveitis, arthritis, myositis, pancreatitis, hemolytic anemia, partial seizures arising in a patient with inflammatory foci in brain parenchyma, adrenal insufficiency, myasthenic syndrome, optic neuritis, and rhabdomyolysis.
For suspected immune-mediated adverse reactions, ensure adequate evaluation to confirm etiology or exclude other causes. Based on the severity of the adverse reaction, withhold KEYTRUDA and administer corticosteroids. Upon improvement of the adverse reaction to Grade 1 or less, initiate corticosteroid taper and continue to taper over at least 1 month. Restart KEYTRUDA if the adverse reaction remains at Grade 1 or less. Permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for any severe or Grade 3 immune-mediated adverse reaction that recurs and for any life-threatening immune-mediated adverse reaction.
Based on its mechanism of action, KEYTRUDA may cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman. If used during pregnancy, or if the patient becomes pregnant during treatment, apprise the patient of the potential hazard to a fetus. Advise females of reproductive potential to use highly effective contraception during treatment and for 4 months after the last dose of KEYTRUDA.
For the treatment of advanced melanoma, KEYTRUDA was discontinued for adverse reactions in 6% of 89 patients who received the recommended dose of 2 mg/kg and 9% of 411 patients across all doses studied. Serious adverse reactions occurred in 36% of patients receiving KEYTRUDA. The most frequent serious adverse drug reactions reported in 2% or more of patients were renal failure, dyspnea, pneumonia, and cellulitis.
The most common adverse reactions (reported in greater-than or equal to 20% of patients) were fatigue (47%), cough (30%), nausea (30%), pruritus (30%), rash (29%), decreased appetite (26%), constipation (21%), arthralgia (20%), and diarrhea (20%).
The recommended dose of KEYTRUDA is 2 mg/kg administered as an intravenous infusion over 30 minutes every three weeks until disease progression or unacceptable toxicity. No formal pharmacokinetic drug interaction studies have been conducted with KEYTRUDA. It is not known whether KEYTRUDA is excreted in human milk. Because many drugs are excreted in human milk, instruct women to discontinue nursing during treatment with KEYTRUDA. Safety and effectiveness of KEYTRUDA have not been established in pediatric patients.
About NanoString Technologies, Inc.
NanoString Technologies provides life science tools for translational research and molecular diagnostic products. The company's nCounter Analysis System has been employed in life sciences research since it was first introduced in 2008 and has been cited in over 700 peer-reviewed publications. The nCounter Analysis System offers a cost-effective way to easily profile the expression of hundreds of genes, proteins, miRNAs, or copy number variations, simultaneously with high sensitivity and precision, facilitating a wide variety of basic research and translational medicine applications, including biomarker discovery and validation. The company's technology has also been applied to diagnostic use. The Prosigna Breast Cancer Prognostic Gene Signature Assay together with the nCounter Dx Analysis System is FDA 510(k) cleared for use as a prognostic indicator for distant recurrence of breast cancer. For more information, please visit www.nanostring.com .
NanoString Technologies, Inc. Forward-Looking Statement
This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, including statements regarding the likelihood of this collaboration to translate genomic discoveries to diagnostic assays, and the potential to develop diagnostic assays on the nCounter platform that will predict response to KEYTRUDA and other anti-PD-1 therapies. Forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially and reported results should not be considered as an indication of future performance. These risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to: risks associated with keeping pace with rapidly changing technology and customer requirements; risks regarding the company's ability to successfully introduce new products; risks that new market opportunities may not develop as quickly as expected; risks associated with competition in marketing and selling products; risks of increased regulatory requirements; as well as the other risks set forth in the company's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date hereof. NanoString Technologies disclaims any obligation to update these forward-looking statements.
The NanoString Technologies logo, NanoString, NanoString Technologies, nCounter and Prosigna are either registered trademarks or trademarks of NanoString Technologies, Inc.
Merck’s Focus on Cancer
Our goal is to translate breakthrough science into innovative oncology medicines to help people with cancer worldwide. At Merck Oncology, helping people fight cancer is our passion and supporting accessibility to our cancer medicines is our commitment. Our focus is on pursuing research in immuno-oncology and we are accelerating every step in the journey – from lab to clinic – to potentially bring new hope to people with cancer. For more information about our oncology clinical trials, visit www.merck.com/clinicaltrials .
Today's Merck is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. Merck is known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to healthcare through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. For more information, visit www.merck.com  and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Merck Forward-Looking Statement
This news release includes “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the safe harbor provisions of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are based upon the current beliefs and expectations of Merck’s management and are subject to significant risks and uncertainties. There can be no guarantees with respect to pipeline products that the products will receive the necessary regulatory approvals or that they will prove to be commercially successful. If underlying assumptions prove inaccurate or risks or uncertainties materialize, actual results may differ materially from those set forth in the forward-looking statements.
Risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, general industry conditions and competition; general economic factors, including interest rate and currency exchange rate fluctuations; the impact of pharmaceutical industry regulation and healthcare legislation in the United States and internationally; global trends toward healthcare cost containment; technological advances, new products and patents attained by competitors; challenges inherent in new product development, including obtaining regulatory approval; Merck’s ability to accurately predict future market conditions; manufacturing difficulties or delays; financial instability of international economies and sovereign risk; dependence on the effectiveness of Merck’s patents and other protections for innovative products; and the exposure to litigation, including patent litigation, and/or regulatory actions.
Merck undertakes no obligation to publicly update any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. Additional factors that could cause results to differ materially from those described in the forward-looking statements can be found in Merck’s 2014 Annual Report on Form 10-K and the company’s other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) available at the SEC’s Internet site (www.sec.gov).
Please see Prescribing Information for KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) at http://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/k/keytruda/keytruda_pi.pdf  and the Medication Guide for KEYTRUDA at http://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/k/keytruda/keytruda_mg.pdf 
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Merck Media Relations:
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Claire Mulhearn, 908-236-1118
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NanoString Investor/Media Relations:
Leigh Salvo, 415-513-1281
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