The current trend for immuno-oncology hook ups shows no sign of abating, with Merck & Co the latest to sign a deal, this time with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, to assess the full potential of its checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda.

The pharma giant will work with researchers at Anderson to test Keytruda (pembrolizumab) in combination with other treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or novel antitumor medicines, in a stream of clinical studies.

Collaborative trials will be carried out in gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma, pancreatic adenocarcinoma and hepatocellular carcinoma across the three-year collaboration, the firm said, with the first batch due to start enrolling patients later this year. 

"Through these types of collaborations, we are able to engage in larger, more comprehensive studies that aim to accelerate the pace of discovery," noted Patrick Hwu, division head, cancer medicine, at MD Anderson. 

Terms of the agreement were not revealed.

Keytruda gained in fame in September last year after bagging first US approval for any PD-1 inhibitor as a treatment for advanced melanoma. But the drug faces tough competition from Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo, which became the first checkpoint inhibitor to be approved anywhere in the world when Japanese regulators OK’d its use for unresectable melanoma in July last year.