Not intended for UK-based media
Rockland, MA, June 3, 2022 – EMD Serono, the healthcare business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, in the US and Canada, today provided an update on the progress of the company’s innovative oncology development pipeline focused on DNA damage biology. With clinical programs designed to further advance standards of care in core tumors and assess the potential of novel mechanisms of action, including an industry-leading portfolio of DNA damage response inhibitors (DDRi), the company continues to build its focused leadership in the oncology space.
“Within our clinical-stage pipeline and our discovery programs, we have the opportunity to unlock and address DNA biology and apply a diversity of mechanisms to the treatment of multiple cancers,” said Victoria Zazulina, M.D., Head of Development Unit, Oncology, for the Healthcare business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. “We have advanced our DDRi portfolio in a number of settings, as well as agents like xevinapant that could enhance cancer cell death by synergizing with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.”
Advancing Understanding of Novel Mechanisms
The company has advanced the development of its orally administered ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) inhibitor M1774. Following completion of the monotherapy dose-escalation part of the DDRiver Solid Tumors 301 study, a monotherapy dose for M1774 has been confirmed for further evaluation in Phase Ib. Findings, which show a favorable exposure-safety relationship for M1774, will be shared at an upcoming congress. The ongoing study will assess M1774 as a single agent in patients with whose tumors have specific DDR mutations (defined loss-of-function mutation in ARIDIA, ATRX and/or DAXX, and ATM), and in combination with the poly-ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitor niraparib.
The ATR pathway is one of the most promising in the DDRi field as illustrated by recent data at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting. The development of M1774 will build on learnings from the exploration of the intravenous ATR inhibitor berzosertib, which has been studied in approximately 1,000 patients to date in multiple combinations, including with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and PARP inhibitors across company- and investigator-sponsored studies.
Following an interim analysis of the ongoing global Phase II DDRiver SCLC 250 trial of berzosertib in combination with topotecan in patients with relapsed, platinum-resistant small cell lung cancer (SCLC), the decision has been made to discontinue the study due to low probability of meeting the pre-defined objective of this trial. The safety profile for berzosertib plus topotecan was consistent with that observed in other clinical trials to date. SCLC remains a difficult-to-treat disease, with minimal advances in the past 20 years. This is particularly true for patients whose disease is resistant to first-line platinum-based chemotherapy, underscoring the need for additional treatment options. The company will continue its open innovation approach, with ongoing external studies exploring berzosertib in additional combinations and clinical settings.
“While we did not see the outcomes we hoped for with this combination in this particularly challenging population of patients with platinum-resistant SCLC, we are confident in the potential of ATR inhibition, as combination with chemotherapy is only one avenue to take advantage of DNA damage response. We continue to progress our oral ATR inhibitor, M1774, and other investigational treatments in our DDRi portfolio as we evaluate the totality of data for berzosertib to assess our path forward,” said Zazulina.
Addressing Unmet Needs in Head and Neck Cancer
In addition to inhibiting specific pathways of the DNA damage response, the company is exploring other mechanisms that can synergize with DNA damaging agents by modulating cancer cell death caused by these treatment modalities. With the Phase III development program for the potentially first-in-class Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins (IAPs) inhibitor xevinapant, the company is building on its long-standing leadership in the treatment of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN).
Working to Progress Treatment Paradigms in Bladder Cancer
Based on the results of the Phase III JAVELIN Bladder 100 study and emerging real-world data, BAVENCIO® (avelumab) first-line maintenance therapy has advanced the standard of care in locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma. The recently opened Phase II JAVELIN Bladder Medley study will evaluate whether optimization of first-line maintenance treatment by adding a novel therapy to avelumab could improve outcomes for patients. This randomized umbrella study will evaluate avelumab monotherapy versus the combination of avelumab with the company’s investigational anti-TIGIT antibody M6223 in the first-line maintenance setting in patients with advanced urothelial carcinoma whose disease did not progress with first-line platinum-containing chemotherapy. The biomarker analysis of the JAVELIN Bladder 100 study suggests that the combination of avelumab and M6223 is rational, given the impact of TIGIT expression and Fc-gamma mutational status on avelumab efficacy. The study will also evaluate avelumab in combination with Nektar Therapeutics’ interleukin-15 (IL-15) receptor agonist, NKTR-255, and in combination with Gilead Sciences’ Trodelvy® (sacituzumab govitecan-hziy).
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is a science-led organization dedicated to delivering transformative medicines with the goal of making a meaningful difference in the lives of people affected by cancer. Our oncology research efforts aim to leverage our synergistic portfolio in oncogenic pathways, immuno-oncology, and DNA Damage Response (DDR) to tackle challenging tumor types in gastrointestinal, genitourinary, and thoracic cancers. Our curiosity drives our pursuit of treatments for even the most complex cancers, as we work to illuminate a path to scientific breakthroughs that transform patient outcomes. Learn more at www.emdseronooncology.com.
*Trodelvy is a registered trademark of Gilead Sciences.
Xevinapant is a potentially first-in-class potent oral small-molecule IAP (Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins) inhibitor. In preclinical studies, xevinapant restored sensitivity to apoptosis in cancer cells, thereby enhancing the effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. As the most clinically advanced IAP inhibitor, xevinapant in combination with chemoradiotherapy (CRT) significantly improved efficacy outcomes, including three-year PFS and OS, compared with placebo plus CRT in a Phase 2 study in patients with unresected locally advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (LA SCCHN). Xevinapant, formerly known as Debio 1143, was licensed from Debiopharm in 2021. Xevinapant is not approved for any use anywhere in the world.
About BAVENCIO® (avelumab)
BAVENCIO is a human anti-programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) antibody. BAVENCIO has been shown in preclinical models to engage both the adaptive and innate immune functions. By blocking the interaction of PD-L1 with PD-1 receptors, BAVENCIO has been shown to release the suppression of the T cell-mediated antitumor immune response in preclinical models. In November 2014, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany and Pfizer announced a strategic alliance to co-develop and co-commercialize BAVENCIO.
BAVENCIO Approved Indications
BAVENCIO® (avelumab) is indicated in the US for the maintenance treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma (UC) that has not progressed with first-line platinum-containing chemotherapy. BAVENCIO is also indicated for the treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic UC who have disease progression during or following platinum-containing chemotherapy, or have disease progression within 12 months of neoadjuvant or adjuvant treatment with platinum-containing chemotherapy
BAVENCIO in combination with axitinib is indicated in the US for the first-line treatment of patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC).
In the US, the FDA granted accelerated approval for BAVENCIO for the treatment of adults and pediatric patients 12 years and older with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and duration of response. Continued approval may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in confirmatory trials.
BAVENCIO is currently approved for at least one indication for patients in more than 50 countries.
BAVENCIO Important Safety Information from the US FDA-Approved Label
BAVENCIO can cause severe and fatal immune-mediated adverse reactions in any organ system or tissue and at any time after starting treatment with a PD-1/PD-L1 blocking antibody, including after discontinuation of treatment.
Early identification and management of immune-mediated adverse reactions are essential to ensure safe use of PD-1/PD-L1 blocking antibodies. Monitor patients closely for symptoms and signs that may be clinical manifestations of underlying immune-mediated adverse reactions. Evaluate liver enzymes, creatinine, and thyroid function at baseline and periodically during treatment. In cases of suspected immune-mediated adverse reactions, initiate appropriate workup to exclude alternative etiologies, including infection. Institute medical management promptly, including specialty consultation as appropriate.
No dose reduction for BAVENCIO is recommended. For immune-mediated adverse reactions, withhold or permanently discontinue BAVENCIO depending on severity. In general, withhold BAVENCIO for severe (Grade 3) immune-mediated adverse reactions. Permanently discontinue BAVENCIO for life-threatening (Grade 4) immune-mediated adverse reactions, recurrent severe (Grade 3) immune-mediated reactions that require systemic immunosuppressive treatment, or an inability to reduce corticosteroid dose to 10 mg or less of prednisone or equivalent per day within 12 weeks of initiating corticosteroids. In general, if BAVENCIO requires interruption or discontinuation, administer systemic corticosteroid therapy (1 to 2 mg/kg/day prednisone or equivalent) until improvement to Grade 1 or less. Upon improvement to Grade 1 or less, initiate corticosteroid taper and continue to taper over at least 1 month. Consider administration of other systemic immunosuppressants in patients whose immune-mediated adverse reactions are not controlled with corticosteroid therapy. Toxicity management guidelines for adverse reactions that do not necessarily require systemic corticosteroids (eg, endocrinopathies and dermatologic reactions) are discussed in subsequent sections.
BAVENCIO can cause immune-mediated pneumonitis, including fatal cases. Monitor patients for signs and symptoms of pneumonitis and evaluate suspected cases with radiographic imaging. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater pneumonitis. Withhold BAVENCIO for Grade 2 and permanently discontinue for Grade 3 or Grade 4 pneumonitis. Immune-mediated pneumonitis occurred in 1.2% (21/1738) of patients, including fatal (0.1%), Grade 4 (0.1%), Grade 3 (0.3%) and Grade 2 (0.6%) adverse reactions. Systemic corticosteroids were required in all (21/21) patients with pneumonitis.
BAVENCIO can cause immune-mediated colitis. The primary component of immune-mediated colitis consisted of diarrhea. Cytomegalovirus infection/reactivation has been reported in patients with corticosteroid-refractory immune-mediated colitis. In cases of corticosteroid-refractory colitis, consider repeating infectious workup to exclude alternative etiologies. Withhold BAVENCIO for Grade 2 or Grade 3, and permanently discontinue for Grade 4 colitis. Immune-mediated colitis occurred in 1.5% (26/1738) of patients, including Grade 3 (0.4%) and Grade 2 (0.7%) adverse reactions. Systemic corticosteroids were required in all (26/26) patients with colitis.
BAVENCIO can cause hepatotoxicity and immune-mediated hepatitis. Withhold or permanently discontinue BAVENCIO based on tumor involvement of the liver and severity of aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), or total bilirubin elevation. Immune-mediated hepatitis occurred with BAVENCIO as a single agent in 0.9% (16/1738) of patients, including fatal (0.1%), Grade 3 (0.6%), and Grade 2 (0.1%) adverse reactions. Systemic corticosteroids were required in all (16/16) patients with hepatitis.
BAVENCIO in combination with INLYTA can cause hepatotoxicity with higher than expected frequencies of Grade 3 and 4 ALT and AST elevation compared to BAVENCIO alone. Consider more frequent monitoring of liver enzymes as compared to when the drugs are used as monotherapy. Withhold or permanently discontinue both BAVENCIO and INLYTA based on severity of AST, ALT, or total bilirubin elevation, and consider administering corticosteroids as needed. Consider rechallenge with BAVENCIO or INLYTA, or sequential rechallenge with both BAVENCIO and INLYTA, after recovery. In patients treated with BAVENCIO in combination with INLYTA in the advanced RCC trials, increased ALT and increased AST were reported in 9% (Grade 3) and 7% (Grade 4) of patients. Immune-mediated hepatitis was reported in 7% of patients including 4.9% with Grade 3 or 4 immune-mediated hepatitis. Thirty-four patients were treated with corticosteroids and one patient was treated with a non-steroidal immunosuppressant.
BAVENCIO can cause primary or secondary immune-mediated adrenal insufficiency. For Grade 2 or higher adrenal insufficiency, initiate symptomatic treatment, including hormone replacement, as clinically indicated. Withhold BAVENCIO for Grade 3 or Grade 4 endocrinopathies until clinically stable or permanently discontinue depending on severity. Immune-mediated adrenal insufficiency occurred in 0.5% (8/1738) of patients, including Grade 3 (0.1%) and Grade 2 (0.3%) adverse reactions. Systemic corticosteroids were required in all (8/8) patients with adrenal insufficiency.
BAVENCIO can cause immune-mediated hypophysitis. Hypophysitis can present with acute symptoms associated with mass effect such as headache, photophobia, or visual field defects. Hypophysitis can cause hypopituitarism. Initiate hormone replacement, as clinically indicated. Withhold BAVENCIO for Grade 3 or Grade 4 endocrinopathies until clinically stable or permanently discontinue depending on severity. Immune-mediated pituitary disorders occurred in 0.1% (1/1738) of patients, which was a Grade 2 (0.1%) adverse reaction.
BAVENCIO can cause immune-mediated thyroid disorders. Thyroiditis can present with or without endocrinopathy. Hypothyroidism can follow hyperthyroidism. Initiate hormone replacement for hypothyroidism or institute medical management of hyperthyroidism, as clinically indicated. Withhold BAVENCIO for Grade 3 or Grade 4 endocrinopathies until clinically stable or permanently discontinue depending on severity. Thyroiditis occurred in 0.2% (4/1738) of patients, including Grade 2 (0.1%) adverse reactions. Hyperthyroidism occurred in 0.4% (7/1738) of patients, including Grade 2 (0.3%) adverse reactions. Systemic corticosteroids were required in 29% (2/7) of patients with hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism occurred in 5% (90/1738) of patients, including Grade 3 (0.2%) and Grade 2 (3.7%) adverse reactions. Systemic corticosteroids were required in 7% (6/90) of patients with hypothyroidism.
BAVENCIO can cause immune-mediated type I diabetes mellitus, which can present with diabetic ketoacidosis. Monitor patients for hyperglycemia or other signs and symptoms of diabetes. Initiate treatment with insulin as clinically indicated. Withhold BAVENCIO for Grade 3 or Grade 4 endocrinopathies until clinically stable or permanently discontinue depending on severity. Immune-mediated type I diabetes mellitus occurred in 0.1% (2/1738) of patients, including Grade 3 (0.1%) adverse reactions.
BAVENCIO can cause immune-mediated nephritis with renal dysfunction. Withhold BAVENCIO for Grade 2 or Grade 3, and permanently discontinue for Grade 4 increased blood creatinine. Immune-mediated nephritis with renal dysfunction occurred in 0.1% (1/1738) of patients, which was a Grade 2 (0.1%) adverse reaction. Systemic corticosteroids were required in this patient.
BAVENCIO can cause immune-mediated dermatologic adverse reactions, including rash or dermatitis. Exfoliative dermatitis including Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS), drug rash with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS), and toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), has occurred with PD-1/PD-L1 blocking antibodies. Topical emollients and/or topical corticosteroids may be adequate to treat mild to moderate non-exfoliative rashes. Withhold BAVENCIO for suspected and permanently discontinue for confirmed SJS, TEN, or DRESS. Immune-mediated dermatologic adverse reactions occurred in 5% (90/1738) of patients, including Grade 3 (0.1%) and Grade 2 (2.0%) adverse reactions. Systemic corticosteroids were required in 29% (26/90) of patients with dermatologic adverse reactions.
BAVENCIO can result in other immune-mediated adverse reactions. Other clinically significant immune-mediated adverse reactions occurred at an incidence of <1% in patients who received BAVENCIO or were reported with the use of other PD-1/PD-L1 blocking antibodies. For myocarditis, permanently discontinue BAVENCIO for Grade 2, Grade 3, or Grade 4. For neurological toxicities, withhold BAVENCIO for Grade 2 and permanently discontinue for Grade 3 or Grade 4.
BAVENCIO can cause severe or life-threatening infusion-related reactions. Premedicate patients with an antihistamine and acetaminophen prior to the first 4 infusions and for subsequent infusions based upon clinical judgment and presence/severity of prior infusion reactions. Monitor patients for signs and symptoms of infusion-related reactions, including pyrexia, chills, flushing, hypotension, dyspnea, wheezing, back pain, abdominal pain, and urticaria. Interrupt or slow the rate of infusion for Grade 1 or Grade 2 infusion-related reactions. Permanently discontinue BAVENCIO for Grade 3 or Grade 4 infusion-related reactions. Infusion-related reactions occurred in 25% of patients, including three (0.2%) Grade 4 and nine (0.5%) Grade 3 infusion-related reactions. Eleven (92%) of the 12 patients with Grade ≥3 reactions were treated with intravenous corticosteroids.
Fatal and other serious complications of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) can occur in patients who receive HSCT before or after being treated with a PD-1/PD-L1 blocking antibody. Follow patients closely for evidence of transplant-related complications and intervene promptly. Consider the benefit versus risks of treatment with a PD-1/PD-L1 blocking antibody prior to or after an allogeneic HSCT.
BAVENCIO in combination with INLYTA can cause major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) including severe and fatal events. Consider baseline and periodic evaluations of left ventricular ejection fraction. Monitor for signs and symptoms of cardiovascular events. Optimize management of cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes, or dyslipidemia. Permanently discontinue BAVENCIO and INLYTA for Grade 3-4 cardiovascular events. MACE occurred in 7% of patients with advanced RCC treated with BAVENCIO in combination with INLYTA compared to 3.4% treated with sunitinib in a randomized trial. These events included death due to cardiac events (1.4%), Grade 3-4 myocardial infarction (2.8%), and Grade 3-4 congestive heart failure (1.8%).
BAVENCIO can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman. Advise patients of the potential risk to a fetus including the risk of fetal death. Advise females of childbearing potential to use effective contraception during treatment with BAVENCIO and for at least 1 month after the last dose of BAVENCIO. It is not known whether BAVENCIO is excreted in human milk. Advise a lactating woman not to breastfeed during treatment and for at least 1 month after the last dose of BAVENCIO due to the potential for serious adverse reactions in breastfed infants.
The most common adverse reactions (all grades, ≥20%) in patients with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) were fatigue (50%), musculoskeletal pain (32%), diarrhea (23%), nausea (22%), infusion-related reaction (22%), rash (22%), decreased appetite (20%), and peripheral edema (20%).
Selected treatment-emergent laboratory abnormalities (all grades, ≥20%) in patients with metastatic MCC were lymphopenia (49%), anemia (35%), increased aspartate aminotransferase (34%), thrombocytopenia (27%), and increased alanine aminotransferase (20%).
A fatal adverse reaction (sepsis) occurred in one (0.3%) patient with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma (UC) receiving BAVENCIO + best supportive care (BSC) as first-line maintenance treatment. In patients with previously treated locally advanced or metastatic UC, fourteen patients (6%) who were treated with BAVENCIO experienced either pneumonitis, respiratory failure, sepsis/urosepsis, cerebrovascular accident, or gastrointestinal adverse events, which led to death.
The most common adverse reactions (all grades, ≥20%) in patients with locally advanced or metastatic UC receiving BAVENCIO + BSC (vs BSC alone) as first-line maintenance treatment were fatigue (35% vs 13%), musculoskeletal pain (24% vs 15%), urinary tract infection (20% vs 11%), and rash (20% vs 2.3%). In patients with previously treated locally advanced or metastatic UC receiving BAVENCIO, the most common adverse reactions (all grades, ≥20%) were fatigue, infusion-related reaction, musculoskeletal pain, nausea, decreased appetite, and urinary tract infection.
Selected laboratory abnormalities (all grades, ≥20%) in patients with locally advanced or metastatic UC receiving BAVENCIO + BSC (vs BSC alone) as first-line maintenance treatment were blood triglycerides increased (34% vs 28%), alkaline phosphatase increased (30% vs 20%), blood sodium decreased (28% vs 20%), lipase increased (25% vs 16%), aspartate aminotransferase (AST) increased (24% vs 12%), blood potassium increased (24% vs 16%), alanine aminotransferase (ALT) increased (24% vs 12%), blood cholesterol increased (22% vs 16%), serum amylase increased (21% vs 12%), hemoglobin decreased (28% vs 18%), and white blood cell decreased (20% vs 10%).
Fatal adverse reactions occurred in 1.8% of patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) receiving BAVENCIO in combination with INLYTA. These included sudden cardiac death (1.2%), stroke (0.2%), myocarditis (0.2%), and necrotizing pancreatitis (0.2%).
The most common adverse reactions (all grades, ≥20%) in patients with advanced RCC receiving BAVENCIO in combination with INLYTA (vs sunitinib) were diarrhea (62% vs 48%), fatigue (53% vs 54%), hypertension (50% vs 36%), musculoskeletal pain (40% vs 33%), nausea (34% vs 39%), mucositis (34% vs 35%), palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia (33% vs 34%), dysphonia (31% vs 3.2%), decreased appetite (26% vs 29%), hypothyroidism (25% vs 14%), rash (25% vs 16%), hepatotoxicity (24% vs 18%), cough (23% vs 19%), dyspnea (23% vs 16%), abdominal pain (22% vs 19%), and headache (21% vs 16%).
Selected laboratory abnormalities (all grades, ≥20%) worsening from baseline in patients with advanced RCC receiving BAVENCIO in combination with INLYTA (vs sunitinib) were blood triglycerides increased (71% vs 48%), blood creatinine increased (62% vs 68%), blood cholesterol increased (57% vs 22%), alanine aminotransferase increased (ALT) (50% vs 46%), aspartate aminotransferase increased (AST) (47% vs 57%), blood sodium decreased (38% vs 37%), lipase increased (37% vs 25%), blood potassium increased (35% vs 28%), platelet count decreased (27% vs 80%), blood bilirubin increased (21% vs 23%), and hemoglobin decreased (21% vs 65%).
Berzosertib is an investigational, potent and selective inhibitor of the ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) protein that blocks ATR activity in several cancer cell lines. Berzosertib is the first ATR inhibitor evaluated in a randomized clinical trial in any tumor type, and it is the lead candidate in Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany’s DNA Damage Response (DDR) inhibitor portfolio. It is currently being investigated in several internal and external studies with early phase I/II data in small cell lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and various solid tumors. Berzosertib, formerly known as M6620 or VX-970, was licensed from Vertex Pharmaceuticals in 2017. Berzosertib is not approved for any use anywhere in the world.
About EMD Serono, Inc.
EMD Serono - the healthcare business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany in the U.S. and Canada -aspires to create, improve and prolong life for people living with difficult-to-treat conditions like infertility, multiple sclerosis and cancer. The business is imagining the future of healthcare by working to translate the discovery of molecules into potentially meaningful outcomes for people with serious unmet medical needs. EMD Serono’s global roots go back more than 350 years with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. Today, the business has approximately 1,500 employees around the country with commercial, clinical and research operations in Massachusetts. www.emdserono.com.
About Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a leading science and technology company, operates across healthcare, life science and electronics. Around 58,000 employees work to make a positive difference to millions of people’s lives every day by creating more joyful and sustainable ways to live. From advancing gene editing technologies and discovering unique ways to treat the most challenging diseases to enabling the intelligence of devices – the company is everywhere. In 2020, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, generated sales of € 17.5 billion in 66 countries.
The company holds the global rights to the name and trademark “Merck” internationally. The only exceptions are the United States and Canada, where the business sectors of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany operate as EMD Serono in healthcare, MilliporeSigma in life science, and EMD Electronics. Since its founding in 1668, scientific exploration and responsible entrepreneurship have been key to the company’s technological and scientific advances. To this day, the founding family remains the majority owner of the publicly listed company.
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