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Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline forge cancer alliance in combo melanoma trial pact

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Combination cancer therapies are all the rage these days in the oncology field. Now two of the giant players in the cancer R&D arena have decided to match their top prospects to see if they can make a bigger impact on melanoma.

Pfizer ($PFE) says it has struck a deal to combine its blockbuster candidate palbociclib with GlaxoSmithKline's Mekinist (trametinib) in an early-stage dose-escalation study to gauge their impact on key biomarkers for BRAFV600 wild-type melanoma, including NRAS mutations. Mekinist was approved last spring.

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), which has high hopes for Mekinist, has already launched its own in-house combo trials with its BRAF blocker dabrafenib. It's unusual to see Big Pharma companies launch combination studies while their drugs are still in clinical trials, but melanoma has emerged as one of the most competitive fields in R&D and researchers are eager to try out multiple approaches to stymie cancer. As a result, we're seeing more creative alliances like this, with investigators setting out to see if they can determine relatively quickly if they have a therapy that should be vaulted into registration studies.

GlaxoSmithKline will take charge of the upcoming Phase I/II study, but the companies are keeping the financial details of their joint project under wraps for now.

Pfizer R&D chief Mikael Dolsten has vowed to concentrate resources around a handful of big drugs, and palbociclib is widely considered one of its biggest drugs in the clinic. Palbociclib, though, has been earning some mixed reviews among analysts, a number of whom have projected peak sales ranging from $1 billion to $5 billion on the sell side.  

"Pfizer Oncology is committed to maximizing the value of our portfolio for patients through the study of novel combinations. This includes combining our own cancer medicines with each other, as well as with those of other companies where there is strong scientific rationale," said Garry Nicholson, president and general manager of the Pfizer Oncology Business Unit. "Emerging data suggest the potential for trametinib and palbociclib to work together to treat melanoma. We look forward to collaborating with GSK to explore this potential and evaluate the clinical activity of this combination in melanoma."

- here's the press release

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