Merck & Co. and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center said today they will collaborate to evaluate the pharma’s marketed cancer therapy Keytruda® (pembrolizumab), in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or new anti-tumor medicines. The value of the collaboration was not disclosed.

Over the three year period of the collaboration, the partners said, collaborative studies will be conducted in three types of solid tumors: gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, and hepatocellular carcinoma.

“The agreement aims to define what combination modalities will work best with Keytruda in these types of tumors by exploring promising new alternatives,” Merck said in a company statement.

The first studies are scheduled to start enrolling later this year.

The collaboration is part of a Merck clinical development program for Keytruda, both as a monotherapy and in combination with other therapies. According to the company and MD Anderson, the clinical program consists of more than 16,000 patients enrolled in more than 100 clinical trials across more than 30 tumor types.

Keytruda is a humanized monoclonal antibody that works by blocking interaction between the programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) and its receptor ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2—thus increasing the immune system’s ability to fight cancer in cells that produce the pigment responsible for color in the skin.

MD Anderson was a key contributor to early investigations exploring the use of Keytruda in the treatment of multiple tumor types. Past research collaborations by Merck and MD Anderson generated data upon which the FDA approved Keytruda in 2014 as the first PD-1 inhibitor indicated to treat unresectable or metastatic melanoma following treatment with ipilimumab. Keytruda is also indicated for patients who are BRAF V600 mutation positive, a BRAF inhibitor.

“We believe that this new agreement will help to speed delivery of new cancer treatments that our patients expect and deserve,” added Patrick Hwu, M.D., division head, Cancer Medicine at MD Anderson.

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