Merck & Co saw its stock hit a six-year high after unveiling a trio of alliances that will test its promising cancer candidate MK-3475 alongside rival drugs.

The US drug giant's shares briefly hit $55.20 (reports Reuters) during the day as investors welcomed news of deals with Pfizer, Amgen and Incyte, under which MK-3475 will be tested in novel combination regimens with other anticancer agents belonging to these firms.

Financial details of the deals remain under close wraps, but further information on the planned research programmes was released.

With Pfizer, Merck will assess in Phase I/II clinical studies the safety and efficacy of MK-3475 in combination with the former's small molecule kinase inhibitor Inlyta (axitinib) in patients with renal cell carcinoma, and separately MK-3475 plus PF-05082566 (PF-2566), an investigational immuno-oncology agent that targets the human 4-1BB receptor, in multiple cancer types.

Incyte and Merck will collaborate on a randomised, double-blind placebo controlled Phase I/II study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a regimen combining MK-3475 with Incyte’s investigational immunotherapy agent INCB24360 in patients with previously-treated metastatic and recurrent NSCLC, among other advanced or metastatic cancers.

Amgen and Merck will look at MK-3475 in combination with Amgen’s investigational oncolytic immunotherapy talimogene laherparepvec in a Phase I/II study in patients with previously untreated advanced melanoma.

MK-3475 is an investigational, highly selective anti-PD-1 immunotherapy which is designed to restore the natural ability of the immune system to recognise and target cancer cells, and analysts are expecting the drug to make peak sales of at least $2 billion if it makes it to market.

Q4 income, sales down

Meanwhile, Merck has also posted its set of financials for the fourth quarter which, while falling slightly shy of expectations, were widely considered as satisfactory.

Net income for the quarter came in at $781 million, or 26 cents per share, falling from $908 million, or 30 cents a share, recorded a year ago. 

Sales for the period slid 3.6% to $11.3 billion (analysts were expecting $11.4 billion) as revenues for diabetes drug Januvia (sitagliptin) slipped 1% to $1.12 billion and asthma therapy Singulair (montelukast) plummeted nearly 40% to $298 million as generic competition ate into its market share.