Aug 26 (Reuters) - 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 test.
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 Xalkori.
Pembrolizumab, by contrast, works by removing the brakes from the immune system, allowing it to detect and destroy cancer cells.
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