Cancer Research UK has announced its first cross-company deal as part of its Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) Combinations Alliance.
MSD, Verastem and Cancer Research UK will trial a new combination of immunotherapy drugs in mesothelioma, non small cell lung and pancreatic cancers. The trial will run through the ECMC network at centers in Edinburgh-Dundee, Southampton, Glasgow, Leicester and Belfast.
The phase Ib/IIa trial will investigate whether a focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitor drug from Verastem called VS-6063 (defactinib) can boost the effectiveness of a PD-1 immunotherapy drug from MSD called Keytruda (pembrolizumab).
It is based on discoveries by scientists at the Edinburgh Cancer Research UK Centre at the University of Edinburgh who showed that inhibiting FAK can release the cancer immune response. Defactinib may be able to take down a barrier of immune cells which are tricked into protecting the cancer cells while pembrolizumab can activate cancer-killing immune cells to attack those exposed cancer cells.
Around 50 to 60 cancer patients will take the drug combination, starting with a small dose and building this up to find what is safe. The scientists will also study how the treatments target the cancers and what effects the drug combination has on the tumours.
The trial will open between late 2016 and early 2017. It will be managed by the Cancer Research UK clinical trials unit in Glasgow and co-sponsored by the University of Glasgow and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
Dr. Mercia Page, medical director of oncology at MSD, said, “We look forward to working with Cancer Research UK and Verastem on this promising combination. Strategic collaborations such as this reinforce the commitment we have to bringing a range of new treatments to the forefront, helping people with cancer who need a number of options available to them.”
Dr. Greg Berk, Verastem chief medical officer, said, “Combining defactinib and MSD’s pembrolizumab through the Combinations Alliance expands our potential to deliver transformative therapies to patients with many types of cancer.
“We are delighted to be working with the Combinations Alliance, MSD, and world class scientists and medical centers throughout the U.K. on this trial. This study will build on the single agent activity of defactinib observed in early clinical trials in patients with non-small cell lung cancer and other tumor types, and follows from substantial preclinical research which has demonstrated that FAK inhibition optimizes the tumour immune balance and potentiates efficacy of PD-1 checkpoint inhibition.”