In the first joint development between global pharma majors at an early stage of development, AstraZeneca and Merck & Co., Inc. today announced a collaboration to test a potential new cancer treatment composed of two investgational compounds that are still in early human trials.
The two research compounds are Merck's MK-2206 and AZD6244 from AstraZeneca. the two regimen's are said to be several years from reaching the market.
This is the first time that two large pharmaceutical companies have established a collaboration to evaluate the potential for combining candidate molecules at such an early stage of development. Usually, such collaborations take place when one or both the drugs enter late-stage development or marketing approval has been received.
According to the companies, preclinical evidence indicates that combined administration of these compounds could enhance their anticancer properties
If successful, the collaboration will hasten the advance of a potentially promising anticancer treatment.
Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca and Merck will work together to evaluate co-administration of the compounds in a Phase I clinical trial for the treatment of solid cancer tumors. All development costs will be shared jointly. Following the Phase I trial, the companies will consider opportunities for further clinical development.
Each candidate is designed to inhibit a protein known to be abnormally activated in human cancers. In preclinical studies, AZD6244 has been shown to affect MEK (Mitogen-activated protein kinase 1), an important signal that promotes cancer cell growth and survival. AZD6244 has completed Phase I evaluation, demonstrating proof of mechanism, and several Phase II monotherapy studies, which showed evidence of clinical activity. It is currently in Phase II clinical trials in a range of tumor types. Merck's MK-2206 has demonstrated an effect on AKT (a component of the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase pathway), an important signal promoting cancer cell survival. Phase I clinical data on MK-2206 were presented this week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting.
"There is strong scientific rationale to suggest that the potential benefit to cancer patients of this combination may far exceed the sum of the parts," said Gary Gilliland, senior vice president and franchise head Oncology, Merck Research Laboratories. "In order to harness the true potential of the combined administration of the compounds, AstraZeneca and Merck have established a pioneering, early stage collaboration based on our mutual determination to develop impactful therapies that improve patients' lives."
"This collaboration brings together two leading companies with a wealth of expertise in oncology," said Alan Barge, vice president and head of Oncology at AstraZeneca. "Through this agreement we are well positioned to implement a detailed and timely evaluation of the therapeutic potential of this novel combination, with the aim of bringing this potentially effective regimen to patients as rapidly as possible."
Advances in cancer research have led to a new generation of drugs designed to precisely target features specific to cancer cells while minimizing the effect on healthy cells. Several of these drugs provide patient benefit as monotherapy, but increasingly the ability of cancer cells to adapt and develop resistance has become apparent.
Research suggests that combination therapies that include drugs with different mechanisms of action impacting cancer cells in multiple ways may provide an improved anticancer benefit and decrease the risk of relapse.
Molecular profiling of human solid tumors has shown that both the MEK and AKT pathways are frequently abnormally activated. Preclinical studies have suggested that simultaneously inhibiting both of these pathways may have synergistic effects on tumor cell growth.
Usually, combinations of novel anticancer agents would only be studied in clinical trials when one component of the regimen is at a late stage of development or when one compound has received marketing approval. This agreement is pioneering in that two major pharmaceutical companies, each with one component of the combination regimen in its pipeline, are collaborating at an early stage in development, so that effective treatments may be brought to patients as rapidly as possible.