In what could be an industry first, AstraZeneca and Merck will join forces to test their two competing cancer drugs – Merck’s MK-2206 and AstraZeneca’s AZD6244 — in a clinical trial that uses both drugs in unison.

The Phase I clinical trial will include co-administration of the drugs to patients with solid cancer tumors. The companies will then consider opportunities for further development once trials have been concluded.

Regulators are yet to approve the action but both companies say they believe dual administration could bring greater results to sufferers.

The compounds are designed to inhibit a protein known to be abnormally activated in human cancers. In preclinical studies, AZD6244 was shown to affect MEK, an important signal that promotes cancer cell growth and survival.

Merck Research Laboratories senior vice president and franchise head of oncology Gary Gilliland said there was strong evidence to suggest that combining the two compounds would be far more benefitial to cancer patients than each compound on its own.

“In order to harness the true potential of the combined administration of the compounds, AstraZeneca and Merck have established a pioneering, early stage collaboration based on our mutual determination to develop impactful therapies that improve patients’ lives,” Gilliland said.

The AZD6244 compound has already completed the Phase I evaluation, which demonstrated proof of mechanism, and also several Phase II monotherapy studies, which showed evidence of clinical activity. It is currently in Phase II clinical trials in a range of tumor types.

Merck’s MK-2206 has demonstrated an effect on AKT, an important signal promoting cancer cell survival.

AstraZeneca vice president and head of oncology Alan Barge said that the aim was to get the potentially effective regimen to patients as quickly as possible.