Merck & Co and Vertex Pharmaceuticals say that they have begun a Phase I clinical trial of their anti-cancer agent, VX-680, in patients with solid tumours. Vertex saw its share price climb by more than 7% during trading on the Nasdaq on the news yesterday.

The study will assess the product’s safety and tolerability in patients with tumours resistant to previous chemotherapy. Additional Phase I trials set to follow during the year.

The two firms entered into a multi-million dollar deal to develop and market the product – Vertex’ lead Aurora kinase inhibitor – in June last year as part of the US giant’s bid to further boost its boost for its flagging oncology portfolio [[23/06/04e]], [[24/02/04d]].

Aurora kinases are implicated in the onset and progression of many different human cancers, and the firms believe they have the potential to play an important role in the treatment of a wide range of tumour types. Pre-clinical results for VX-680 showed for the first time that a compound targeting the Aurora mechanism could induce tumour regression in human models of solid tumour cancers.