Merck, BioLineRX to study drug combo to fight pancreatic cancer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli biopharmaceutical company BioLineRX Ltd said on Tuesday it would collaborate with U.S. industry heavyweight Merck to test a combination of drugs for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

The companies will partner in a mid-stage study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the combination of BioLineRx’s BL-8040 and Merck’s Keytruda in patients with metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

“Because certain tumors exhibit only a modest response to existing immunotherapies, we are increasingly seeing clinical studies involving combinations of immuno-oncology agents with other classes of drugs,” said Kinneret Savitsky, BioLineRx’s chief executive.

BL-8040 acts against CXCR4 receptors that are involved in tumor progression, the company said. It has been shown in several clinical trials to mobilize immune cells and to be effective at inducing direct tumor cell death.

Keytruda, an antibody, works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells, said Merck, which is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada.

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma accounts for most cases of pancreatic cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Specific symptoms often do not develop until the disease has reached an advanced stage, which is reflected in a low five-year survival rate.

The study is due to start by mid-2016 and both companies will have the option to expand the collaboration to include a pivotal registration study, BioLineRX said.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by David Clarke