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Merck/Pfizer Collaboration in Lung Cancer Clinical Trial Could Lead to Treatment Option for Mesothelioma

Clinical TrialsMesotheliomaCounsel has reported several times on the success Merck has had with its immunotherapy treatment Keytruda (pembrolizumab) in mesothelioma and lung cancer care. In addition, we have brought readers information on the benefits of Pfizer’s Xalkori (crizotinib) when treating lung cancer. Now, the two pharmaceutical giants are pairing up to combine the two treatments in the hopes of developing a novel anti-cancer treatment.

“This collaboration between Pfizer and Merck is just one example of the willingness of sponsors to work together in an effort to accelerate progress against some of the most difficult-to-treat cancers,” said Dr. Mace Rothenberg, senior vice president of Clinical Development and Medical Affairs and chief medical officer for Pfizer Oncology, in last year’s press release from Pfizer announcing the collaboration.

Both drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the treatment of advanced non-small cell lung cancer patients whose disease has progressed after other treatments have failed. Keytruda is prescribed for patients with tumors that express the protein PD-L1, whereas Xalkori is prescribed in patients who express the abnormal anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene. The markers are identified via companion tests for the drugs.

The Phase Ib, multi-center, U.S., clinical trial, “Crizotinib Plus Pembrolizumab In Alk-Positive Advanced Non Small Cell Lung Cancer Patients,” will be run by Pfizer. The trial is designed to assess the safety and tolerability of the combination drug regimen in patients with ALK-positive advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. The trial is currently recruiting patients, and the researchers hope to get 70 patients enrolled.

Find out more about the U.S. clinical trial where Keytruda was found to be effective in controlling mesothelioma tumors in three-fourths of patients.

Mesothelioma is an incurable, asbestos-caused cancer of the membranes that surround many of the body’s vital organs. The most common form, as many as eighty percent of all diagnoses, is pleural mesothelioma, where the cancer attacks the pleural tissue surrounding the lung.  Treatment for pleural mesothelioma is similar to lung cancer – surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

While only three-five percent of tumors found in NSCLC patients are ALK-positive, mesothelioma researchers and patients are holding out hope that the marker is also present in many pleural mesothelioma cases.

“Evidence from early studies of pembrolizumab monotherapy together with XALKORI’s proven targeted therapeutic approach provides the scientific rationale for evaluating this combination for the treatment of lung cancer,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, vice president, Oncology, Merck Research Laboratories, in last year’s press release from Merck announcing the collaboration.

Crizotinib and Keytruda both bring cancer patients closer to personalized treatment that could, ulitmately, benefit the nearly 3,000 Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. Just as with many cancers, lung cancer and mesothelioma treatments can differ dramatically across patients, but focusing on personalized treatment targeted to a patient’s unique characteristics optimizes the potential for success of the treatment.

“Understanding the effects of combining one drug, Xalkori, which inhibits an abnormally activated enzyme in patients with ALK-positive metastatic lung cancer, with the investigational drug, pembrolizumab, which harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer, is vital if we are to continue to advance the care of lung cancer patients,” said Dr. Rothenberg

To find out more about the Crizotinib Plus Pembrolizumab clinical trial see ClinicalTrials.gov.

Read about 13 year, double mesothelioma survivor, and Australian, Lou Williams, effort to bring Keytruda to other mesothelioma patients in her country.

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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 7 years. Follow Nancy on Google+

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