Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) and Merck (NYSE: MRK), known as MSD outside the U.S. and Canada, today announced an expanded collaboration to evaluate the efficacy and safety of talimogene laherparepvec, Amgen's investigational oncolytic immunotherapy, in combination with KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab), Merck's anti-PD-1 therapy, in a Phase 1, open-label trial of patients with recurrent or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN).
In addition, the companies announced that a global, randomized Phase 3 trial evaluating the combination in patients with regionally or distantly metastatic melanoma is being initiated. As previously announced, the compounds are being studied in a Phase 1, open-label trial in this patient population.
Both immunotherapies are designed to modulate the immune system. Talimogene laherparepvec is an investigational oncolytic immunotherapy designed to selectively replicate in tumors (but not normal tissue) and to initiate an immune response against cancer cells. KEYTRUDA is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between PD-1 (programmed death receptor-1) and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2.
"We believe that talimogene laherparepvec has potential in several cancer types based on its proposed mechanism of action to initiate tumor antigen release and presentation, important steps in activating a systemic anti-tumor immune response," said Sean E. Harper, M.D., executive vice president of Research and Development at Amgen. "Talimogene laherparepvec and KEYTRUDA are designed to result in anti-tumor immune responses through different and potentially complementary mechanisms of action. We hope these trials will provide us with insights on the combination of these therapies for patients with this form of cancer for whom treatment options are currently limited. We will discuss the design of the Phase 3 melanoma trial with global regulators and look forward to collaborating with Merck on this study."
"Expanding our collaboration with Amgen is a testament to our belief in the potential for immuno-oncology therapies to change the way we approach the treatment of many cancers, including advanced head and neck cancer where the options are limited," said Dr. Eric Rubin, vice president and therapeutic head, oncology early stage development, Merck Research Laboratories. "We look forward to studying the combination of talimogene laherparepvec and KEYTRUDA in head and neck cancer, and to advancing our collaboration in metastatic melanoma into a Phase 3 clinical trial."