Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Syndax to collaborate on combination ovarian cancer treatment

German drugmaker Merck KGaA and U.S. drug giant Pfizer revealed this week that they are collaborating with Syndax Pharmaceuticals to investigate avelumab as a combination treatment for advanced ovarian cancer. 

As part of alliance formed in 2014 between Merck KGaA and Pfizer, the PD-L1 inhibitor is currently being evaluated in clinical trials for multiple types of cancer.

“Combination therapy is the next frontier in immuno-oncology and a key strategy for the alliance,” Dr. Luciano Rossetti, head of global research and development of Merck KGaA's biopharma business, said. “Avelumab as a monotherapy has already shown promising early activity in ovarian cancer in a Phase Ib trial, and through our ongoing research and this collaboration with Syndax, we will hopefully be able to make a real difference to women fighting this complex cancer.”

Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women worldwide with more than 200,000 being diagnosed with it every year. It is often not detected until it has advanced and spread to areas beyond the ovaries, making the disease more difficult to treat and generally leading to fatal outcomes.

Under the collaboration agreement, the three companies will assess avelumab in combination with Syndax's HDAC inhibitor entinostat among patients with recurrent ovarian cancer who have been heavily treated in the past. Entinostat is an oral small molecule drug that can help strengthen the body's immune response to tumors.

“We are delighted to be working with the alliance to explore the potential benefits of entinostat in combination with avelumab for ovarian cancer patients,” Syndax CEO Dr. Briggs Morrison said. “The continued interest from leading companies in investigating the potential of entinostat in combination with checkpoint inhibitors reflects positively on the potential mechanism of action of the molecule, and also reinforces our clinical strategy to explore entinostat for the benefit of patients across a broad range of solid tumor indications.”

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