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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Ever Have One of Those Days? | Main | A Deuterium Deal »

June 1, 2009

Akt and Mek, But Not PDQ

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Posted by Derek

Well, the ASCO meeting has been roaring along, with dozens of press releases coming out. (Go to Google News and type that acronym in if you want to get the full experience). They range from the pretty-interesting to the despair-inducing, but one bit of news struck me as particularly worth noting. That's the early-stage deal between Merck and AstraZeneca to combine two of their development candidates in a Phase I trial.

That's Merck's AKT inhibitor MK-2206 and AZ's Mek inhibitor AZD6244, and there's room to think that combining those two mechanisms could be beneficial. But as that In Vivo Blog link details, this deal wasn't initiated through any official contact between the two companies. Rather, someone from Merck and someone from AZ got to talking while they were going through airport security in Dublin, and recognized each other's names. A mere year and a half later, the deal was born.

There's a lot to learn from that story. For one, big drug companies are not, for the most part, looking to do early-stage deals with other big drug companies. Perhaps we'll see more of these in the future, but in general, it's about the least likely form of partnership. Another thing to note is how long it took for this idea to bear fruit. Eighteen months is about right for companies of this size to make up their minds about something like this - and you can decide that (since the oncology field is so complicated) that this is a reasonable period of evaluation, or you can decide, equally objectively, that delays of that magnitude remind you of a sauropod turning around in puzzlement three hours after something bit its tail.

I'm impressed that the deal was made at all. The usual path for new ideas of this sort is to the graveyard, especially in very large organizations, so I have to assume that some people within each company must have really pushed things along to make it happen. It's part of the general bias toward inaction: it's harder to get beaten up for decisions that you didn't make, compared to decisions that you did. Missed opportunities are often invisible.

So, no matter how long it took, or even whether it works out, I still have to congratulate the people involved on getting this agreement to happen. It's worthwhile, I think, just because it's the sort of thing that doesn't happen very often. And I have the feeling that (in the coming years) we're going to have to explore a lot of things in this industry that haven't happened very often. We'll need the practice!

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Cancer | Clinical Trials | Drug Development | Drug Industry History


1. Keith Robison on June 1, 2009 8:39 AM writes...

Maybe instead of the current security line groupings (frequent travelers, families, etc) the lines should be grouped by industry! :-)

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2. CMCguy on June 1, 2009 9:58 AM writes...

Maybe this is a sign of changing signs as I recall many stories of Scientists attending conferences and talking with old labmates or seeing posters/presentations and realizing that there was potential for collaborative efforts but when discussed "back home" it either got killed at group meetings because did not think management would buy in or if was proposed to higher levels usual came back with response "we do work with competitors" with a noted tinge of suspicion as why someone was talking with "outsiders". Wonder how many times such connecting the dots get erased by shortsightedness when real aim should be how to best treat the patients?

Although would suspect the Clinical trial design will be interesting for this as would the submission for two new drugs simultaneously and Regulatory may be having headaches already. Sometimes such combo's do get tried/implemented posy-approvals when MDs can do such schemes however if could get earlier perhaps would have avoided failures be individual drug was not efficacious on its own.

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3. Muruga on June 1, 2009 11:05 AM writes...

The deal probably makes sense scientifically. There looks to be considerable evidence that the concurrent inhibition of MEK & AKT pathways leads to an enhanced anti-tumour effect through therapeutic synergism than the inhibition of either of the pathway alone. It is a good beginning and the patient will get ultimately benefitted.

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4. researchfella on June 1, 2009 1:49 PM writes...

But won't it be particularly costly to develop a drug combination that is composed of two NCE's? Don't you normally need to run trials to show the FDA that the combination works better than either drug alone?

I congratulate them for going after this strategy, but it might be quite a bumpy ride. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

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