Merck KGaA has been boosted by data shoeing that its blockbuster Erbitux significantly increases chance of cure for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer.

Results of the CELIM study, published in the Lancet Oncology, have demonstrated that the addition of Erbitux (cetuximab) to pre-operative chemotherapy in patients with KRAS wild-type advanced colorectal cancer and inoperable liver metastases led to an overall tumor response rate of 70%. By the end of the study, 34% of the previously inoperable patients enrolled had “undergone successful complete surgical removal of tumor tissue”, which the German firm’s Merck Serono unit claims is “a very favourable outcome in comparison with historical controls in this setting”.

CELIM was a Phase II study which saw patients with inoperable liver metastases randomly assigned to receive Erbitux with either FOLFOX6 or FOLFIRI, and then assessed for suitability for surgical removal of their liver tumors every eight weeks. Merck Serono noted that 109 patients completed the trial, the initial results of which were presented at last year’s European Society for Medical Oncology Congress in Stockholm.

Oliver Kisker, one of the heads at Merck Serono’s oncology unit, said the results “provide important evidence that the personalised treatment approach with Erbitux, using KRAS as biomarker, offers patients with metastatic colorectal cancer an increased chance of a cure”. He added that in this disease, “tumour response and shrinkage are crucial for reducing patients’ symptoms, extending survival and also maximising the chance of cure.”