Eli Lilly and Merck & Co have extended an existing pact to investigate a combination of their respective drugs Alimta and Keytruda for non-small cell lung cancer.

The companies have decided to test the combo in a pivotal Phase III study as a first-line treatment for non-squamous NSCLC, after promising data from a Phase I study presented earlier this year.

Alimta (pemetrexed for injection) and the anti-PD-1 immunotherapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab) are currently also being assessed together in a Phase II trial which is still enrolling. Merck will sponsor the Phase III trials, which will be open to NSCLC patients regardless of PD-L1 status. 

The 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, designed to explore whether the combinations are more powerful than their individual components alone. 

Financial details of the collaboration were not disclosed.