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October 2, 2016

Cancer Research UK, MSD and Verastem to trial new combination of immunotherapy drugs

Cancer Research UK has collaborated with pharmaceutical companies Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) and Verastem to trial a new combination of immunotherapy drugs to treat mesothelioma, non-small-cell lung and pancreatic cancers.

By Srivari Aishwarya

Cancer Research UK has collaborated with pharmaceutical companies Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) and Verastem to trial a new combination of immunotherapy drugs to treat mesothelioma, non-small-cell lung and pancreatic cancers.

The trial involves combining a PD-1 immunotherapy drug from MSD, known as Keytruda (pembrolizumab), with Verastem's VS-6063 (defactinib) that inhibits a protein called focal adhesion kinase (FAK).

It is based on previous studies that discovered inhibiting FAK can release the cancer immune response.

Defactinib could take down a barrier of immune cells, which are tricked into protecting the cancer cells, while pembrolizumab can activate cancer-killing immune cells to attack those exposed cancer cells.

"This is our first success in bringing together two organisations and we hope that this combination of immunotherapy drugs will benefit patients."

Cancer Research UK clinical research director Dr Ian Walker said: “It’s vital that we find new treatments for these three cancers that take tens of thousands of lives each year in the UK and we’re delighted to be working with MSD and Verastem on this.

“Our Combinations Alliance was set up to help develop partnerships between drug development companies and researchers to try new combinations of drugs in the hope of improving treatments and saving more lives from cancer.

"This is our first success in bringing together two organisations and we hope that this combination of immunotherapy drugs will benefit patients.”

The drug combination will be administered to around 60 cancer patients during the trial managed by the Cancer Research UK clinical trials unit in Glasgow.

Scientists will study how the treatments target the cancers and what effects the drug combination has on the tumours.

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