Pfizer to Test Xalkori Lung Cancer Drug with Merck Immunotherapy

Editor’s note: This article is about two big drug companies that are teaming up to see if their non-small cell lung cancer drugs work even better when combined. The two drugs are called pembrolizumab and crizotinib (aka Xalkori). Pembrolizumab is an immunotherapy, meaning that it boosts a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. Crizotinib is a targeted therapy that is meant to treat people whose tumors have mutations in the ALK gene. To test the combo, the companies are organizing a clinical trial—a research study with volunteer patients. The clinical trial will not begin until 2015.

“Pfizer Inc said Tuesday 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.

“The largest U.S. drugmakers said the combination study will begin in 2015 and be conducted by Pfizer. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“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 occurs in a small percentage of patients with non small cell lung cancer, the most common form of lung cancer. It makes them good candidates for treatment with Xalkori, a targeted drug that can help shrink or slow tumor growth for these patients.

“Pembrolizumab works by removing the brakes from the immune system, allowing it to detect and destroy cancer cells.”