In November 2014, Pfizer and Germany’s Merck teamed up to develop the anti-PD-1 antibody, avelumab, to be used either on its own or in combination with other immune-oncology (IO) therapies.
Eighteen months on, Elizabeth Barrett – regional president of Pfizer’s US oncology business unit – told delegates at the UBS Global Health Care Conference the partnership with Merck has made “astounding” progress.
“We have over 30 clinical trials, seven of those we expect to be label enabling and it's really been great. I think the partnership with [Merck] has forced both of us to take it up to another level,” she said.
But while avelumab will be the “backbone” for Pfizer’s immuno-oncology programme, she said combination therapies will be needed to cure cancer.
“The winning formulation for patients will ultimately be in the combinations of multiple immuno-oncology medicines and also in combination with targeted therapies.”
She continued, saying Pfizer is exploring this, and has seen positive data when combining its small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitor Inlyta (axitinib) with avelumab, as well as in its investigation of Inlyta with another Anti–PD-1 Immunotherapy product, Merck & Co.’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab).
And, she added, going forward Pfizer believes it has “the broadest portfolio of IO compounds” including its investigational monoclonal antibodies utomilumab, a tumor necrosis factor receptor, (TNFR) known as OX40, a cancer vaccine platform, and a broad antibody-drug conjugate portfolio.
“We have a lot when we put a lot behind immuno-oncology, so our strategy is really around finding the right combinations.”
Hot and cold tumours
Barrett also spoke about using combinations to target hot and cold tumours.
“Hot tumours are those that where they have a lot of T cells, and cold tumours are those that don't have a lot of T cells,” she explained, adding that targeting these required different strategies and combinations.
“A real strategy for us is around collaborations, it's around working with a lot of the key institutions to try to do some early work, and find out what is the best combination for each individual tumour type.”