Pfizer, Merck KGaA join with cancer vaccine biotech Vaximm for Bavencio combo studies

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Vaximm signed up with Pfizer and Merck KGaA to test its cancer vaccine with Bavencio in glioblastoma and metastatic colorectal cancer.

European biotech Vaximm has partnered with much bigger drug companies Merck KGaA and Pfizer to test whether its oral cancer vaccine can benefit patients with glioblastoma or colorectal cancer when combined with the pharma companies’ checkpoint inhibitor Bavencio.

As part of the collaboration, Vaximm will be responsible for two open-label phase 1/2 trials, one each in patients with glioblastoma and metastatic colorectal cancer. Dubbed VXM01, Vaximm’s candidate is based on a live attenuated bacterial vaccine strain, according to the biotech.

Vaximm CEO Matthias Schroff said in a statement “there is a strong scientific rationale for combining” the vaccine with checkpoint inhibitors such as Pfizer and Merck KGaA’s Bavencio because the treatments “have complementary modes of action.” He said biotech is excited to work with the pharmas “in cancers for which there is an urgent need for more effective therapies.”

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The announcement came the same day that Pfizer and Merck KGaA won a U.S. FDA nod in bladder cancer with Bavencio. Their drug received its initial FDA approval back in March in the rare skin cancer Merkel cell carcinoma, chasing leading checkpoint inhibitors from Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The Vaximm collaboration won’t be Pfizer’s first cancer vaccine play. Back in December, the company bought a 50% stake in startup Ignite Immunotherapy and agreed to provide “full research and development funding for three years,” according to an announcement. Ignite is working on oncolytic virus vaccines, and Pfizer has an option to buy the biotech if the work yields positive results. The New York pharma also has an internal cancer vaccine platform under development.

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Tie-ups between cancer vaccine biotechs and larger companies with checkpoint inhibitors have become increasingly common in recent years, with some examples being collaborations between Bavarian Nordic and Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck with Agenus and Genexine, and AstraZeneca with Inovio.

Back in 2014, Pfizer and Merck KGaA joined together in a checkpoint inhibitor effort worth up to $2.8 billion, including $850 million up front. Under the deal, they’re splitting development and marketing costs, as well as revenues, evenly.