Atara Biotherapeutics (NASDAQ:ATRA) announced a clinical trial collaboration agreement with Merck (NYSE:MRK) for an upcoming Phase 1/2 trial, that will see them combining their drugs to treat patients with Nasopharyngeal carcinoma.
As quoted in the press release
[The trial will] evaluate Atara Bio’s allogeneic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL), or ATA129, in combination with Merck’s anti-PD-1 (programmed death receptor-1) therapy, KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab), in patients with platinum resistant or recurrent EBV-associated NPC.
Atara Bio’s ATA129 is an investigational therapy in which a healthy donor’s T-cells are stimulated to recognize EBV antigens, or viral proteins, expressed in the cells of certain liquid and solid tumors. ATA129 has previously been evaluated as a single agent in Phase 1 and 2 trials that enrolled patients with a variety of EBV-positive malignancies including 14 patients with chemotherapy refractory, metastatic NPC. In these trials, evidence of radiographic response was observed and EBV-CTLs were also shown to expand after administration without concomitant lymphodepleting chemotherapy. Recent studies suggest that EBV upregulates the transcription of PD-L1 in EBV-associated solid tumors such as NPC and gastric cancer, suggesting the potential for synergy in combination with anti-PD-1 therapies, such as KEYTRUDA.