Lilly and Merck & Co are further expanding the scope of their immuno-oncology alliance to evaluate a combination of abemaciclib, Lilly’s cyclin-dependent kinase 4 and 6 inhibitor, and Keytruda, Merck’s PD-1 inhibitor.

The companies are planning to test the combo in a Phase I study across multiple tumour types and, based on the results, could progress the collaboration to Phase II trials in patients who have been diagnosed with either metastatic breast cancer or non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

As per the agreement, Lilly is sponsoring the trial, which is expected to start enrolling patients early next year, and any subsequent Phase II studies, but specific financial details were not disclosed. 

Abemaciclib is currently in currently in Phase III development with two trials in HR+ breast cancer patients, as well as a Phase III trial in lung cancer. Keytruda is already on the US market for patients with NSCLC and unresectable or metastatic melanoma, and is also being assessed in a variety of cancers.

Last month the companies said they were expanding their collaboration to test a combination of their respective drugs Alimta and Keytruda for NSCLC in a Phase III trial. Their original deal also included a multiple-arm Phase I/II study looking at Cyramza (ramucirumab)/Keytruda in multiple tumours, as well a Phase I/II study of necitumumab/Keytruda in NSCLC, to explore whether the combinations are more powerful than their individual components alone.