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Pfizer and Merck: Studies Planned for New Combination Therapy in Lung Cancer

Pfizer announced earlier this week that it will begin testing Xalkori, the lung cancer drug in combination with Merck & Co's experimental immunotherapy pembrolizumab. It is hoped that this will improve the prognosis of the patients.

The pharmaceutical giant said that studies are expected to begin by 2015 and will be conducted by Pfizer. Xalkori, also known as crizotinib, has an annual sales of $400 million. Xalkori was approved for use in lung cancer patients who have a mutation in the ALK gene, which is detected by a special test.

This mutation is sometimes found in patients suffering from non-small cell lung cancer, which incidentally has the highest prevalence among all types of lung cancer, thus making the patients perfect candidates for this clinical trial.

Pembrolizumab, on the other hand works by putting the immune system into overdrive. Hence effectively detecting the occurrence of cancer cells, and eliminating them immediately before they proliferate. The combination therapy, which employs different mechanisms of action, is meant to deliver a fatal blow to cancer cells. It is hoped that the studies, commencing in 2015, will shed more light into the therapy.

Pembrolizumab, a PD-1 inhibitor, is currently being evaluated as a treatment for melanoma. Indication for its use in lung cancer along with other types of cancer, will depend on the results of ongoing clinical trials. Merck was reported to have said that it was testing pembrolizumab in combination with another of Pfizer's druga, Inlyta, also known as Axitinib, for the treatment of kidney cancer. These drugs are also administered with another experimental drug called the PF-2566, which is under evaluation by Pfizer for numerous cancer types. PF-2566 is said to stimulate activity of the protein 4-1BB (CD-137), which is involved in the regulation of immune cell proliferation.

Merck further confirmed that it has other studies planned with many other pharmaceutical firms, including Amgen.

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