Merck KGaA's pancreatic cancer vaccine ready for testing

In the quest for a cancer vaccine, Merck KGaA is again stepping into the ring. Vaximm Holding AG, the company's joint venture with a Switzerland's BB Biotech Ventures III, will start testing a therapeutic cancer vaccine in patients next year. The vaccine, VXM01, harnesses the body's immune system to fight cancer by using T-cells to close off the tumor's blood supply. Roche's Avastin also focuses on the tumor's blood supply, but it focuses on eliminating a protein that creates the blood vessels to the tumor.

"It's the next, the better Avastin," explains Juerg Eckhardt, a BB Biotech Ventures partner, to Bloomberg. The 40-person study will target advanced pancreatic cancer patients, with results expected in 12 months. Merck's Stimuvax vaccine is being tested on lung cancer patients; its breast cancer trials have been suspended.

Vaximm was created in 2008 after Merck decided not to pursue VXM01 on its own. Merck owns 25 percent of the Vaximm joint venture, while the venture fund owns 68 percent. Vaximm's management holds the remainder through a stock-option plan, according to the Bloomberg report.

- read the Bloomberg report