Merck & Co. Partners in Cancer Therapy

Merck & Co. has entered into a clinical-trial collaboration with Atara Biotherapeutics, a South San Francisco-based biopharmaceutical company, to evaluate Atara Bio’s ATA129, an allogeneic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL), in combination with Merck’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab), an anti-programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) anti-cancer therapy, for treating platinum-resistant or recurrent EBV-associated nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Keytruda is a blockbuster drug for Merck with 2016 sales of $1.4 billion.

The collaboration includes a Phase I/II trial to evaluate the safety, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, and preliminary efficacy of the combination of the two drugs and is planned for initiation in 2018. Under the agreement, the trial will be sponsored by Atara Bio. Additional details of the collaboration were not disclosed.

Atara Bio’s ATA129 is an investigational therapy in which a healthy donor’s T-cells are stimulated to recognize EBV antigens, or viral proteins, expressed in the cells of certain liquid and solid tumors. Merck’s Keytruda, a humanized monoclonal antibody, increases the ability of the body’s immune system to target tumor cells. In the US, Keytruda is indicated treating unresectable or metastatic melanoma, metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, and refractory classical Hodgkin lymphoma.

Source: Atara Biotherapeutics

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