Merck drug triggers response in 24 pct of lung cancer patients


Oct 1 (Reuters) - Early data from a small trial of Merck &Co Inc's experimental immunotherapy cancer drug, knownas MK-3475, showed that about a quarter of lung cancer patientsresponded to the treatment.

Data from the trial is slated for presentation in Sydney,Australia, later this month at the World Conference on LungCancer, Merck said in a statement on Tuesday.

The antibody drug, once known as lambrolizumab, is part of anew class of compounds designed to block the activity of areceptor on immune cells called programmed death 1 or PD-1. Theaim of the drugs is to spur the body's own immune system toattack cancer cells.

"The data for now suggest relatively similar response ratesin NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancer) for Merck's '3475,Bristol's nivolumab and Roche's MPDL3280A as singleagents," JP Morgan analyst Chris Schott said in a research note."With lung cancer representing the largest potential market forPD-1 therapy, we will closely watch how data in the spaceunfolds."

Merck said results from 38 patients whose cancer had stoppedresponding to earlier rounds of treatment showed that 24 percenthad an immune-system response to the drug. The trial also showedthat 21 percent of patients experienced tumor shrinkage.

The most common side effects seen in the trial were fatigue,rash, itching and diarrhea.

Earlier on Tuesday, Merck said it would cut annual operatingcosts by $2.5 billion and eliminate 8,500 jobs. Its shares rose 2.4 percent to close at $48.74 on the New YorkStock Exchange.

Schott said Bristol-Myers Squibb Co is still leadingthe race to develop PD-1 drugs, with more data on nivolumab alsoexpected at the Sydney conference.

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