Nice job Viralytics (ASX : VLA) !
Today’s announcement about a collaboration with Merck around combination CAVATAK-Keytruda (PD-1) is a meaningful announcement and the first real glimmer of evidence that there may be interest from any of the heavy-hitters in immuno-oncology. In the great battle to dominate this space, it’s encouraging to see Merck – or specifically, Merck Research Laboratories – take in an interest in what the company is doing.
While this is an important first step, it also needs to be put into perspective that this collaboration is with the very early-stage, experimental part of the Merck machine. It has also has no financial consideration attached, and given that it is an uncontrolled, open-label study, strongly suggests that this is nothing more than a proof-of-concept study being driven by Viralytics, and not by Merck. Therefore I would say that it is merely good news, not great news.
Keytruda only fairly recently got the nod from the FDA for NSCLC, so to be fair to VLA, in some ways this is still pretty aggressive behaviour from Merck. Frankly, with BMS, Roche and others breathing down their neck, now is not the time to be petty about missing out on an interesting proof-of-concept, particularly with a promising reagent like CVA21.
Perhaps my only negative question is this…. would it have been better to simply just fund this study and get on with it?
What do I mean by this?
Well, Keytruda is approved (i.e. indicated) for use in NSCLC and the press release clearly denotes that the study uses a fixed dose of Merck’s drug, presumably the prescribed dose of Keytruda. Therefore there was really nothing stopping VLA from running the clinical study as a “standard of care” study, plus CAVATAK. There is even a degree of reimbursement support already (or “access”), so VLA probably didn’t even have to go out of pocket for the Merck drug.
Would it have been more powerful to just get the data under its own steam, or do it with Merck? Perhaps an interesting question for shareholders to ponder… when does NOT paying for information reduce the value of information?