Sanofi-Aventis and Merck KGaA are teaming up to investigate new combinations that could become treatments for cancer.

The two companies have signed a worldwide R&D agreement, the financial details of which have not been disclosed, to look at "novel experimental combinations of agents that could block specific pathways in cancer cells". They hope the collaboration will deliver "novel targeted oncology treatments with high therapeutic potential".

The combinations involve Merck’s MEK inhibitor MSC1936369B and Sanofi's PI3K/mTOR inhibitor SAR245409 and a class I PI3K inhibitor SAR245408. Each party will be initially responsible for conducting a Phase I dose escalation study of these product candidates and then they will grant R&D licences to each other's drugs to assess safety and initial clinical activity in combinations.

Wolfgang Wein, head of oncology at the Darmstadt-hedquartered firm's Merck Serono unit, said that "in the spirit of personalising and stratifying cancer care, it is a logical step to combine new exciting molecules across pipelines and companies early on, to explore combined activity against cancer pathways". He added that "we expect a strong synergy between both oncology units in driving the projects forward".

His counterpart at Sanofi, Debasish Roychowdhury, said the collaboration reinforces our commitment to maximise our portfolio", adding that "combining these two promising molecules makes eminent sense".