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Affimed's drug combo with Merck's Keytruda reduces blood cancer in early trial

A combination of Affimed NV's cancer drug AFM13 and Merck & Co. Inc.'s Keytruda showed a reduction in the disease of patients with a certain type of blood cancer.

The combination is being evaluated in an ongoing phase 1b trial to treat patients with Hodgkin's lymphoma whose cancer had returned or did not respond to standard therapies including Seattle Genetics Inc.'s Adcetris.

Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of lymphoma — cancer that begins in infection-fighting cells of the immune system, called lymphocytes. In Hodgkin's lymphoma, these lymphocytes grow abnormally and begin to collect in certain parts of the lymphatic system.

Affimed said data from the study showed that about 89%, or 16 out of 18 patients, treated with the highest dose showed a reduction in their cancer.

The company said the combination was well-tolerated and complete metabolic response rate was observed in five patients. Complete metabolic response refers to the return of the absorption level of radiopharmaceutical fludeoxyglucose, or FDG, in the damaged tissues of the organ to a level equal to or less than residual radioactivity in normal tissues within the organ.

The company said the high response rates in the trial "continue to compare favorably" to the historical data of Keytruda as a stand-alone treatment.

Initial results from the trial showed that 83% of patients saw a reduction in their disease after three months, compared with 58% to 63% of patients seeing a response from Keytruda as a monotherapy.