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Merck KGaA's lung cancer drugs yield promising results in early stage trial

Merck KGaA said two of its cancer drugs are showing favorable outcomes in early stage trials for treating non-small lung cancer, or NSCLC.

The Darmstadt, Germany-based drugmaker released some initial data for the investigational drugs ahead of this year's American Society of Clinical Oncology conference.

The company said it is looking for partnerships to develop its pipeline.

In an early stage trial studying the anti-tumor effects of fusion protein M7824, about 40.7% of patients with NSCLC showed signs of tumor shrinkage, preliminary data showed.

The protein is designed to have dual functions. It fights solid tumors by blocking PD-L1 — a protein found on cancer cells to help it hide from the body's immune system — and also trapping TGF-beta, a cell signaling protein that suppresses the body's anti-tumor immune response.

About 71.4% of the patients who had high levels of PD-L1 experienced tumor shrinkage with M7824 therapy.

In a separate study, Merck's cancer drug tepotinib also demonstrated anti-cancer effects in 12 out of 15 patients with a mutation-driven type of NSCLC. After treatment with the small molecule drug, nine patients saw a reduction in cancer growth in their body while three patients achieved stable disease, Merck reported.

The company said it will also present new data for its cancer immunotherapy Bavencio, which it is jointly developing and commercializing with Pfizer Inc.

In a recent late stage trial, the PD-L1 inhibitor drug failed to show it is better than chemotherapy in improving the survival odds of NSCLC patients.