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MSD and Lilly announce immuno-oncology collaboration

Published on 11/01/17 at 03:18pm

MSD, known as Merck in North America, and Eli Lilly have announced the expansion of their existing immuno-oncology collaboration. The expansion will see MSD’s Keytruda tested alongside Lilly’s Lartruvo (olaratumab) to treat patients with previously treated advanced or metastatic soft tissue sarcoma.

Sarcomas are cancerous tumours of the connective tissue, a form of cancer that is relatively complex and rare – meaning treatment is also particularly difficult. According to the American Cancer Society, there were 12,000 new cases of STS cases diagnosed and nearly 5,000 deaths in the US in 2015.

Lilly scored a hit with Lartruvo last year, with the drug approved by the FDA in October 2016, becoming the first new treatment for sarcoma in 40 years – with the previous approval being doxorubicin. Lartruvo improved upon the results from this drug massively, with median survival improving from 14.7 months, for patients receiving doxorubicin, to 26.5 months with those taking Lartruvo.

"We look forward to further expanding our collaboration with Merck to include this combination study focused on advanced soft tissue sarcoma, a rare and difficult-to-treat disease with limited treatment options," said Susan Mahony, senior vice president and president, Lilly Oncology. "This collaborative study builds on the exciting data we have seen with olaratumab and supports our focus on investigating the potential of rational combinations to enhance efficacy and change the standards of care for people with cancer."

As can be expected, the aim for the Phase 1 trials, funded by Lilly, will be to improve upon the current statistics achieved by Lartruvo – with the potential to manage the progression of the cancer one that would be welcomed in a form of cancer that is particularly difficult to treat. Recruitment for the initial trials are expected to begin midway through this year.

Ben Hargreaves

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