Merck has partnered with GlaxoSmithKline to begin Phase I/II studies with Glaxo’s Votrient® (pazopanib), delivered to treatment naive-advanced renal cell carcinoma patients, along with MK-3475 — Merck’s melanoma candidate that recently won breakthrough status at FDA. This will take a year or two to sort out, but could be an important additional indication/market for the MK-3475 Lambrolizumab candidate, should it pan out.
That said, Lambrolizumab is more likely to first reach market in the United States as a skin cancer drug — as I say, for melanoma treatment — then later be prescribed “off-label” directly by oncologists, if/when the newly-announced Phase II study shows good efficacy without increased toxicity — in advanced carcinomas. [To be clear, Merck/GSK cannot market it off-label directly, under applicable US FDA regulations, but clinicians can always use it, investigationally, if they are willing to eat the potential malpractice risk. A good study outcome here will largely blunt that risk, for the US oncologists. That’s how actual, practical pharma/medical practice works.]
And once again, this is smart and aggressive preparation, clearly underway at Whitehouse Station — to allow MK-3475 the widest possible berth it can reasonably garner, when it does reach US markets, some time next year.
Per the Rock Hill Herald Online, then — a bit — do go read it all:
. . . .“Collaborations like this are central to Merck’s strategy to evaluate the potential of MK-3475 for the treatment of cancer,” said Iain Dukes, senior vice president, Licensing and External Scientific Affairs, Merck Research Laboratories. “We look forward to initiating further collaborations to investigate MK-3475 in combination with other anti-cancer agents across a range of tumor types.”
Merck and GlaxoSmithKline entered a collaboration to study MK-3475 with Vortrient® (pazopanib) and other agents in the GlaxoSmithKline portfolio in the future. This Phase I/II clinical trial is designed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a combination of MK-3475 and pazopanib in treatment naïve patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma. Further details of the collaboration were not disclosed. . . .
We will — as ever — keep you up to date. This sort of pre-market pump priming, with expensive studies (something north of $100 million per Phase I/II study — and presumably shared revenue streams, with other drug companies) suggests that Merck believes whole-heartedly in MK-3475. This will pay off handsomely if Mr. Frazier is right — but will look like lots of money down a rabbit hole, should MK3475 hit a last minute snag. So, taking bigger risks, and making bigger, earlier bets — may well yield much bigger returns. Yep — I like his style.