Merck and Pfizer Announce Investigational Immunotherapy Avelumab Receives FDA Fast Track Designation for Metastatic Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merck KGaA and Pfizer have announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted avelumab, an investigational fully human anti-PD-L1 IgG1 monoclonal antibody, Fast Track designation for the treatment of metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a rare and aggressive type of skin cancer.

Companies stated that this announcement builds on the recent FDA Orphan Drug designation that was granted for avelumab on September 21, 2015 for the treatment of MCC. The Fast Track designation is designed to facilitate the development, and expedite the review, of drugs to treat serious conditions and address an unmet medical need.

“We are pleased that the FDA continues to acknowledge the current high unmet needs for patients with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma through these recent regulatory designations for avelumab,” said Dr. Luciano Rossetti, Global Head of Research & Development of the biopharmaceutical business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. “We look forward to working closely with the FDA on an expedited review process for avelumab, and we hope to be able to provide a potential new treatment option for patients with this difficult-to-treat cancer in the future.”

“We look forward to working with our partners at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, on the development of avelumab in patients with relapsed and refractory Merkel cell carcinoma,” said Dr. Mace Rothenberg, Senior Vice President of Clinical Development and Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for Pfizer Oncology. “Fast Track designation will enable us to coordinate these efforts more closely with the FDA.”

Companies explained that the designation relates to the clinical development program for avelumab in metastatic MCC, which includes the Phase II study, JAVELIN Merkel 200, to assess the safety and efficacy of avelumab in patients with metastatic MCC who have progressed after at least one prior chemotherapy regimen. In this study, the primary endpoint is objective response rate, and secondary endpoints include duration of response, progression-free survival, overall survival and safety. The study, which exceeded its expected enrollment of 84 patients with 88 patients enrolled, is being conducted in sites across Asia Pacific, Australia, Europe and North America.

The clinical development program for avelumab now includes more than 1,000 patients who have been treated across more than 15 tumor types, including breast cancer, gastric/gastroesophageal cancer, head and neck cancer, MCC, mesothelioma, melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, ovarian cancer, renal cell carcinoma and urothelial (e.g. bladder) cancer.

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