AZ and Merck: Moving Forward Cautiously
A year after Merck & Co. Inc. and AstraZeneca PLC announced their innovative collaboration on the clinical development of two early-stage targeted cancer therapies, both companies say the project remains on track. To date the collaboration remains the sole example of two big drug makers collaborating in such close fashion on such early stage products. The companies were willing to take the leap in order to accelerate development of what they hope will be an effective targeted treatment in an emerging, highly competitive, but frustrating area of cancer research.
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Partnering its PD-1-specific antibody candidate with three other companies, Merck indicates a new era may have arrived for testing novel agents in combination. Also, NIH partners with 10 biopharmas to transform the discovery model and Myriad moves to buy Crescendo.
Big pharma collaborations and other new or once-rare models of business development can help companies ‘do more with less’, according to AstraZeneca’s and Merck’s heads of business development, who spoke at Elsevier’s Pharmaceutical Strategic Alliances conference.
Despite significant scientific advances tied to the molecular understanding of cancer, clinical advances have been more limited, largely because the complexity of most tumors defies novel single-target approaches. Clinical advances in the future will require developing rational combinations of targeted therapeutics, as well as leveraging advances in biomarkers and clinical trial design. Vetting new targets with a biomarker, pursuing them in combination trials with several targeted agents, and efficiently moving the resulting rational combination through development to regulatory approval will be the roadmap for commercial success.