Biopharmaceutical firm BerGenBio has entered a collaborative agreement with Merck (MSD) to evaluate the combination of its BGB324 with Merck's Keytruda (pembrolizumab) to treat patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

BGB324 is a highly selective, potent and orally available small-molecule Axl kinase inhibitor being developed to treat several cancer indications.

Under the collaboration, BerGenBio will conduct two international Phase II trials to assess the potential clinical synergy of BGB324 and anti-PD-1 therapy Keytruda combination.

BerGenBio chief executive officer Richard Godfrey said: "This new agreement gives us the opportunity to evaluate the clinical potential of BGB324 in combination with Keytruda in advanced lung and breast cancer; two of the areas of significant unmet medical need.

"We believe BGB324 is a unique drug candidate that addresses a critical cancer mechanism responsible for promoting immune evasion."

"We believe BGB324 is a unique drug candidate that addresses a critical cancer mechanism responsible for promoting immune evasion. We believe the clinical utility of BGB324 in combination with immunotherapies has enormous potential."

The multi-centre Phase II BGBC007 trial will evaluate the combination in patients with previously treated, locally advanced or unresectable TNBC, while the multi-centre Phase II BGBC008 trial will assess the combination in patients with previously treated unresectable adenocarcinoma of the lung.

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The firm also intends to conduct biomarker studies alongside the Phase II trials, to develop companion diagnostics for detecting patients who would be suitable for the combination treatment.

While the rights to the trial results will be shared, BerGenBio will sponsor the trials and MSD will provide Keytruda.