Merck & Co has launched a collaborative clinical trials network across 15 research sites worldwide in an effort to speed up the pace of development for innovative cancer therapies.

The selected partner sites will lead the design and conduct of Phase 0 to 2a studies of investigational drugs and vaccines in the US pharma giant’s oncology pipeline. The network is expected to enrol some 1,200 patients in 30-40 clinical trials each year, encompassing both investigator- and company-sponsored studies.

The Merck Oncology Collaborative Trials Network “could serve as a blueprint for how industry and research institutions can work together more efficiently and effectively to expedite the delivery of innovative cancer therapies to patients”, believes Malcolm Moore, head of medical and haematological oncology at Princess Margaret Hospital and a scientist at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, which together constitute the Canadian arm of the Merck initiative.

The company cites a recent commissioned report by the US Institute of Medicine (IoM) on the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Clinical Trials Cooperative Group Program, which found that around half of all cancer studies run through the NCI programme are never completed due to poor co-ordination, bureaucracy and cumbersome procedures.

The report suggested that collaborative research approaches could be improved by reducing the number of trial sites, proper funding of research efforts, setting strict deadlines and prioritising studies based on their potential, Merck pointed out. “The Merck Oncology Collaborative Trials Network embodies many of these principles,” it commented.

The necessary infrastructure to consolidate data, specimen and imaging testing results and patient outcomes through the new network is under development. This approach “will lead to more informed, data-driven and rapid decision-making regarding the efficacy and safety profile of compounds and the utility of biomarkers developed by Merck or its collaborators”, the company said.

Other than Canada, the network sites are in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil; Villejuf, France; Tel Hasomer, Israel; Seoul, Korea; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Oslo, Norway; Taipei, Taiwan; and Rochester, Scottsdale, Jacksonville, Houston, New York City, San Antonio and San Francisco in the US.