Merck KGaA’s lung cancer drugs show promise in early-stage trials

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Germany’s Merck KGaA said two of its experimental oncology drugs showed early signs of promise in certain lung cancer patients, potentially helping the company’s efforts to find drug-industry partners to share further development costs.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of drugs and chemicals group Merck KGaA is pictured in Darmstadt, Germany January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

The family-controlled company on Wednesday released some initial data from early- and mid-stage trials that will be presented in more detail at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago in early June.

A bifunctional fusion protein known as M7824, which combines two immunotherapy mechanism, led to tumour shrinkage in 40.7 percent of patients in a small study group suffering from non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Those patients, being tested in the first of typically three trial stages, were shown to have tumours with at least some level of PD-L1, a protein that helps the cancer evade an immune system response.

In lung cancer patients where PD-L1 was at a level of at least 80 percent, the rate of tumour shrinkage was 71.4 percent.

In another study, cancer drug tepotinib was associated with partial tumour shrinkage in 9 out of 15 trial participants, according to an interim analysis of an ongoing trial in the second of typically three stages of testing on humans.

Patients in that trial are suffering from NSCLC that is driven by a certain type of genetic mutation.

Bernstein analysts said in a March 21 note that tepotinib was the “one to watch” among Merck’s early and mid-stage pipeline drugs, and predicted 2030 sales of 530 million euros ($650 million).

Merck, which has a promising drug pipeline for the first time in several years, is looking for development partners for experimental treatments including tepotinib and M7824, as an expected decline in operating profit this year forces it to find new ways to finance pharmaceutical development.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Mark Potter

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