Amgen has collaborated with Merck to evaluate a class of drugs that use the body’s immune system to help detect and fight cancer.

The collaboration is designed to support a Phase Ib / III trial, which will evaluate Amgen’s CD19 bispecific T-cell engager (BiTE) Blincyto (blinatumomab) in combination with Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab) to treat patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL).

The trial will evaluate the combination’s safety and efficacy in patients with DLBCL, the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

The companies have also agreed to support another Phase I / II trial of Amgen’s anti-colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor (CSF1R) antibody, AMG 820, in combination with Keytruda.

This trial will evaluate the combination in patients with select advanced solid tumours, including non-small cell lung (NSCLC), colorectal, and pancreatic cancers.

"The combination of these immunotherapies may hold potential for patients with cancer."

Amgen Research and Development executive vice-president Sean Harper said: "We are pleased to enter these collaborations with Merck that build upon our growing cancer immunotherapy portfolio.

"We look forward to learning more about potential new combination treatment options for Blincyto and AMG 820 in disease areas where there remains a high unmet need."

The company noted that Blincyto binds specifically to CD19, which is found on the surface of cells of B-lineage origin, and CD3, which is expressed on the surface of T-cells.

AMG 820 is an investigational human monoclonal antibody. It targets the colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor, which is designed to reduce tumour-associated macrophage (TAM) function.

Keytruda enhances the immune system’s ability to identify and fight tumour cells.

It blocks the interaction between PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2, which results in the activation of T-lymphocytes that could affect both tumour and healthy cells.

Merck Research Laboratories oncology early-stage development therapeutic area head and vice-president Dr Eric Rubin said: "The combination of therapies is an important approach for overcoming the ever-changing and complex nature of many cancers.

"The combination of these immunotherapies may hold potential for patients with cancer, and we look forward to partnering with Amgen to advance these trials with the hope of bringing forward new treatment combinations for patients with various types of cancer."

Image: Micrograph of a diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). Photo: courtesy of Nephron.