Dako to develop companion diagnostic for Pfizer and Merck KGaA's joint cancer candidate

Pharma bigwigs Merck KGaA and Pfizer ($PFE) announced they are collaborating with Dako to develop a companion diagnostic to accompany their investigational immune checkpoint inhibiting candidate in the fight against cancer.

The trio will work to design a companion diagnostic to assess programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) protein expression levels in tumor tissue as well as its microenvironment, which includes tumor-associated immune cells, the companies said in a release.

The companion diagnostic will be part of the protocol in ongoing clinical trials of the anti-PD-L1 monoclonal antibody candidate, dubbed avelumab. The candidate is in Phase III trials for non-small cell lung cancer, Phase II for Merkel cell carcinoma and Phase I for solid tumors, according to the Merck KGaA website.

PD-L1 is a protein that suppresses the immune system to prevent it from creating an overly powerful response, which is beneficial in certain situations, but not when the body is combating cancer. The candidate will inhibit PD-L1 to prevent it from putting the brakes on the immune system.

"By retaining a native Fc-region, avelumab is thought to engage the innate immune system and induce antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity," Merck KGaA and Pfizer say in a release.

In November 2014 the two companies announced they will collaborate on as many as 20 programs in immuno-oncology centered on the compound. Because the monoclonal antibody was originally developed and discovered by Merck KGaA, the company received an upfront payment of $850 million and can receive up to $2 billion in commercial and development-based milestone payments.

Now Dako is part of the alliance. The diagnostics company is part of Agilent ($A), which just continued its foray into diagnostics and scientific research equipment with the planned acquisition of Seahorse Bioscience for $235 million. Seahorse Bio makes analyzers to research cell metabolism as it relates to a variety of topics, including neurodegeneration, aging, cancer, cardiovascular disease and cell physiology.

Earlier this year Dako struck a deal to develop a companion diagnostic for an unnamed cancer drug being developed by Amgen ($AMGN), as well as cancer drug Opdivo, which is being commercialized by Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Japan's Ono.

- read the release