Drug giants AstraZeneca and Merck & Co have announced what they call a pioneering collaboration investigating a novel combination anticancer regimen composed of two investigational compounds.

The therapy will combine AZD6244 from AstraZeneca and MK-2206 from Merck. The firms said preclinical evidence suggests that “combined administration of these compounds could enhance their anticancer properties”.

AZD6244 blocks mitogen-activated protein kinase 1 (MEK), which promotes cancer cell growth, and it is being tested in several Phase II monotherapy trials against a number of cancers. MK-2206 affects AKT, a component of the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase pathway, which is “an important signal promoting cancer cell survival”.

Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca and Merck will work together to evaluate co-administration of the compounds in a Phase I trial for the treatment of solid cancer tumours. All development costs will be shared jointly and once the findings of the trial are studied, the companies will consider opportunities for further clinical development.

The news is particularly interesting because this is the first time two large pharmaceutical companies have established a collaboration to evaluate the potential for combining candidate molecules at such an early stage of development.

Impressive Zactima data
Meantime, AstraZeneca has unveiled positive data on its investigational lung cancer drug Zactima (vandetanib) at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Orlando.

Data from the Zodiac study involved 1,391 patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer whose disease has worsened after chemotherapy. They were randomized to receive additional treatment with the chemotherapy docetaxel and Zactima or docetaxel and placebo.

Patients receiving Zactima in addition to chemotherapy had about 17.3 weeks before their cancer progressed or started growing again compared to 14 weeks for those on chemotherapy alone. The difference in progression free survival translated into a 21% reduction in the risk of disease progression.

AstraZeneca noted that vandetanib is the first oral targeted therapy to show evidence of clinical benefits when added to chemotherapy in a Phase III study in second-line advanced NSCLC. While data from two other studies showed the drug did not reach a statistically significant improvement in PFS, the company said the data showed a positive trend.

AstraZeneca plans to file for US regulatory approval of vandetanib by the end of this month.