MSD, Verastem and Cancer Research UK are to trial a new combination of immunotherapy drugs as potential treatment for mesothelioma, non small cell lung and pancreatic cancers.

The Phase Ib/IIa trial, which will run through CR UK's Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre network at sites in Edinburgh-Dundee, Southampton, Glasgow, Leicester and Belfast, will look into whether a focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitor drug from Verastem called VS-6063 (defactinib) can boost the effectiveness MSD's PD-1 immunotherapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

According to the charity, discoveries by scientists at the Edinburgh CR UK Centre at the University of Edinburgh have shown that inhibiting FAK can release the cancer immune response, and researchers are hoping that defactinib may be able to taken down the barrier that tricks immune cells into protecting the cancer cells while Keytruda activates an attack on them.

Around 50-60 cancer patients will take the drug combination in the trial, which is scheduled to open between the end of the year and early 2017.

Mesothelioma, pancreatic and non small cell lung cancers are each linked with very low survival rates - with more than half (60 percent) of mesothelioma patients, more than three quarters (79 percent) of pancreatic cancer patients and two thirds (68 percent) of lung cancer patients dying within a year of diagnosis in England and Wales.

"It's vital that we find new treatments for these three cancers which take tens of thousands of lives each year in the UK and we're delighted to be working with MSD and Verastem on this," said Dr Ian Walker, director of clinical research at the charity.

"Immunotherapy is a very exciting area of cancer research and we've seen remarkable benefits from pembrolizumab for some patients with hard-to-treat cancers, like melanoma and lung cancer. We're hoping that the addition of defactinib will extend those benefits to more patients," added trial co-lead Dr Stefan Symeonides, from the University of Edinburgh.