Merck KGaA reveals ASCO plans

Merck KGaA is the latest company to announce its slate for this year’s ASCO conference, and like other firms it will be highlighting its immuno-oncology and precision medicine candidates.

The German company is focussing its cancer immunotherapy presentations on the investigational compound avelumab. The drug is co-developed with Pfizer and the two companies will be jointly presenting data from nine trials in a range of cancers at the conference, including gastric carcinoma and ovarian cancer.

Pfizer and Merck signed a $3 billion deal in November 2014 to co-develop it, and they have also agreed to co-promote Pfizer’s established lung cancer treatment Xalkori (crizotinib).

Luciano Rossetti, head of global research and development at Merck’s biopharma arm Merck Serono, says: “We are focussed on shedding light on difficult-to-treat cancers, such as soft tissue sarcomas and Merkel cell carcinoma, in order to make a meaningful difference for patients.”

The company will also be presenting data from the other most promising area of cancer treatment, precision medicine. Results from a study testing the drug tepotinib in patients with solid tumours that overexpress c-Met will be on show, as will several studies centered around Merck’s big-seller Erbitux (cetuximab) in RAS wild-type metastatic colorectal cancer.

Data from two Phase II studies testing evofosfamide in multiple myeloma and melanoma will also be revealed at the conference. The drug is being co-developed with Threshold Pharmaceuticals, and is currently in Phase III studies for the treatment of soft tissue sarcoma and for pancreatic cancer, as well as in a Phase II trial for the treatment of non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer.

Several other companies have already announced their ASCO line up. Roche and its subsidiary Genentech will highlight results for their under-review combination of cobimetinib and Zelboraf (vemurafenib), as well as established medicines Gazyvara (obinutuzumab) and Perjeta (pertuzumab).

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca’s presentations will centre on immuno-oncology compounds MEDI4736 and AZD9291 and AbbVie will be discussing a variety of investigational drugs for a range of cancers.

George Underwood

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