Merck KGaA and Pfizer have entered into a collaboration with Debiopharm International to evaluate the potential of combining their drugs to treat lung cancer.

The groups plan to test a combination of Debio 1143, an oral, small molecule inhibitor of IAPs (Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins), in combination with avelumab, an investigational fully human anti-PD-L1 IgG1 monoclonal antibody, in patients with advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.

"We are hopeful that the immunosensitizing effect of our compound in combination with avelumab may translate into a potentially better treatment outcome for patients suffering from this major debilitating disease," said Dr Chris Freitag, vice president, Clinical Research & Development, Debiopharm International SA.

Debio 1143 is currently in Phase II development for head & neck and ovarian cancer, while Merck and Pfizer's avelumab is under clinical investigation across a broad range of tumour types.

Financial specifics of the deal weren't released, but Debiopharm is responsible for conducting the Phase I/Ib clinical trial in NSCLC.

"Inhibition of the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway has shown promising activity in patients with advanced NSCLC," said Alise Reicin, head of Global Clinical Development in the biopharma business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

"We hope that our exploration of avelumab as a combination therapy with Debio 1143 will generate results that could potentially one day make a real difference to patients fighting this deadly cancer."

Globally, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, responsible for more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined.