Merck, Pfizer and Verastem have agreed to evaluate avelumab in combination with Verastem's VS-6063, an investigational focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitor, in a Phase I/Ib clinical trial to treat patients with advanced ovarian cancer.
Avelumab is an investigational fully human anti-PD-L1 IgG1 monoclonal antibody. It is currently being investigated across a broad range of tumour types.
The firms have not disclosed financial terms of the agreement, and the Phase I/Ib trial is expected to begin later this year.
Merck biopharma business Global Clinical Development head Dr Alise Reicin said: "Combination strategies in immuno-oncology offer significant promise for patients in need.
"Through our collaboration with Verastem, we hope to accelerate our understanding of avelumab and its potential as a combination therapy with FAK inhibition for patients fighting ovarian cancer."
FAK is a protein that is often overproduced in tumours, allowing cancer cells to evade attack by the immune system.
Pfizer Oncology Early Development, Translational and Immuno-Oncology head and vice-president Chris Boshoff said: "Through this collaboration, we hope to advance our understanding of how FAK inhibition may complement our development program for avelumab, with the ultimate goal of potentially achieving better outcomes for women with ovarian cancer."
Pre-clinical research shows that FAK inhibition can modulate the balance of immune cells in tumours. This increases the presence of cytotoxic T cells in the tumour, and decreases immunosuppressive T regulatory cells.
Merck and Pfizer will continue to explore the therapeutic potential of avelumab, which was initially discovered and developed by Merck.
Image: Intermediate magnification micrograph of a low malignant potential (LMP) mucinous ovarian tumour. H&E stain. Photo: courtesy of Nephron.