Advaxis teams up with Merck to test its vaccine in prostate cancer

Just over a month after striking an immunotherapy pact with AstraZeneca ($AZN), New Jersey biotech Advaxis ($ADXS) is back with another Big Pharma agreement. This time, the company will be teaming up with Merck ($MRK) to test its cancer vaccine, ADXS-PSA, in combination with the latter's checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab.

Advaxis CEO Daniel O'Connor

In a Phase I/Phase II trial, Advaxis will evaluate the use of its candidate--which works to spur a T-cell attack on cancer--as a standalone treatment for prostate cancer as well as in conjunction with Merck's wannabe blockbuster. Advaxis will fund the first study, planned to begin in early 2015, with eyes on a potential longer-term relationship.   

"We are excited to be working with Merck," CEO Daniel O'Connor said in a statement. "We believe the combination of Advaxis Lm-LLO cancer immunotherapies and checkpoint inhibitors holds significant promise for the treatment of prostate and other cancers."

Pembrolizumab is no stranger to combo trials, with cancer vaccine makers looking for an edge to overcome a history of weak responses. Merck is pursuing studies with companies the likes of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Amgen ($AMGN), which said it would this year begin testing melanoma vaccine hopeful T-Vec with the compound.

And it's not Advaxis' first foray into the world of Big Pharma IO partnerships, either. In July, the biotech inked an agreement with AstraZeneca's MedImmune to test the British drugmaker's MEDI4736 antibody with its ADXS-HPV investigational vaccine in patients with HPV-related cancers.

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