For years, Merck was a traditional small-molecule, pill-in-a-bottle company that was known for being skeptical and late to the biotech drug party. So why is Merck suddenly mobilizing real resources—people and money—in an unmistakable biotech quest to fight cancer by unleashing the immune system to fight tumors?
Some of it has to do with Merck bringing in a biotech guy, Roger Perlmutter, to run R&D. But some of it also has to do with the encouraging clinical data seen thus far for an antibody called MK-3475. That candidate is up against Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche/Genentech in the race to become the first drug that inhibits the PD-1 pathway, which acts like a cloaking mechanism that tumors use to disguise themselves from the immune system. Merck’s drug showed some encouraging preliminary results last year at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, and it’s one of the important anti PD-1 antibodies in development.
So, no surprise, I’m excited to have Merck join the Xconomy Seattle event on April 22 about “What’s Hot in Cancer Immunotherapy.”
Deborah Law, Merck’s vice president of biologics discovery and the head of the company’s Palo Alto, CA, site, has agreed to join the great lineup of speakers we already have from Bristol-Myers, Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, among other groups.
Tickets have been going fast at the early-bird discount rate, which runs through March 11. This event is already bringing together many of the leading West Coast startup executives working on immunotherapy. There may just be one more big company to join the program in the coming days, so stay tuned. But for now, readers should be sure to get tickets while the best deal is available. See you on April 22.