Aug 26 Pfizer Inc on Tuesday said it
will test its Xalkori lung cancer drug with Merck & Co's
experimental immunotherapy pembrolizumab, in hopes the
combination will improve the outcomes for patients taking the
approved Pfizer therapy.
Xalkori, which has annual sales of $400 million and is also
known by its chemical name crizotinib, was approved in 2011 for
lung cancer patients who have a specific mutation in the
so-called ALK gene, as determined by an approved diagnostic
The mutation only occurs in a small percentage of patients
with non small cell lung cancer, the most common form of lung
cancer, but makes them good candidates for treatment with
Pembrolizumab, by contrast, works by removing the brakes
from the immune system, allowing it to detect and destroy cancer
The differing mechanisms of action from combination therapy
are meant to deliver a one-two punch to cancer cells.
The Merck drug, called a PD-1 inhibitor, is expected to be
approved within months in the United States and to become a
blockbuster treatment for melanoma, and possibly later for lung
cancer and other types of cancer, depending on results of
ongoing clinical trials.
Merck is not studying pembrolizumab in combination with its
own experimental drugs, but does have studies underway with
other drugmakers, including Amgen.
Merck is also conducting a study of the PD-1 drug in
combination with its older melanoma drug Sylatron.
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Bernadette Baum)