The collaboration encompasses research on diagnostics basedon a network signaling approach to analyzing patients' tumors as well asclinical trial research. For the diagnostic research aspect of thiscollaboration, CTCA will contribute archived tumor biopsies from its extensivetumor databank as well as prospectively collected tumor samples. These sampleswill be analyzed using Merrimack's Network Biology approach for identifying thenetwork signaling that drives cancer growth with the goal of understanding eachpatient's cancer at the molecular level.
"One of the questions Merrimack likes to ask is, 'What isthis tumor addicted to for its growth?' and the answer to that is powerful,because then you can sample a tumor and use the technology to answer that inreal-time with an efficiency that lets you immediately incorporate that into apatient workup and treatment plan," says Dr. Donald T. Braun, vice president ofclinical research at CTCA. "The fact that they have a system to address growthdependency in tumors is extremely important to us and the fact they used thatinformation to guide the development of new therapies to block those growthpathways is important to us."
One of the key strengths that CTCA offers Merrimack, inturn, is that many of CTCA's patients are battling advanced cancer and havereceived many—if not all—of the standard lines of therapy, and CTCA hasregional destination hospitals in Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tulsa,with a fifth hospital opening in Atlanta in 2012, providing a wide variety ofpatient samples and data from a large patient population. This makes CTCA'stumor archive particularly valuable, the partners say, because it offers anopportunity for Merrimack to explore how the molecular characteristics of atumor change as a result of therapy. This joint effort, they say, couldeventually lead to the identification of novel companion diagnostics to guidetreatment decisions.
"This partnership with Merrimack supports our goal to giveevery patient an individually focused treatment plan, using innovativetechnologies and tools to help fight their cancer and improve their quality oflife," said Dr. Maurie Markman, senior vice president of clinical affairs andnational director of medical oncology at CTCA, in an official statement aboutthe deal. "We believe that the innovations that come from this partnershipcould help provide the right treatment for every patient's unique biology."
"Access to CTCA's tumor samples greatly enhances the speedand scope of the research we are doing to understand the complexity of cancercells and to characterize what their growth is dependent upon," added RobertMulroy, CEO of Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, in the news release about thecollaboration. "CTCA is a great example of a forward-looking institution tryingto change the face of cancer care. This collaboration represents the future ofindividualized treatment where a hospital and a biopharmaceutical company worktogether on research, which we hope will ultimately result in much bettertreatment for cancer patients."
One of Merrimack's key goals is to ensure that with everytherapeutic it develops, it also co-develops a companion diagnostic, GavinMacBeath, a founder of Merrimack Pharmaceuticals and its vice president oftranslational research, tells ddn."Our long-term goal is to find ways to predict which patients will respond toour drugs based on biomarker profiles or other information, so that's how ourgoals aligned so well with CTCA since they want to provide the best possibletargeted therapies as well."
"CTCA's key strength is they have a lot of experience withtreating patients and understanding the lifecycle of cancer and specificallyvarious cancer indications and how patients respond to different drugs and atdifferent stages in the lifecycle of the disease," MacBeath adds. "Also, withtheir treatment aspect, they have a very well-developed network of patients andorganizations to provide data that advances translational research. FromMerrimack's perspective, we bring a deep understanding of the biology behindcancer and quantitative models that predict how cells will respond depending onthe status of the cell and the agent it is exposed to. We have five compoundsin our pipeline, and soon to be six, that are in clinical trials along with thebiological knowledge that led to the discovery of those drugs."
The parties note that in addition to diagnostic goals, thecollaboration also encompasses clinical research.
"We think that working with CTCA will be good for bothparties, and especially in providing the material we need to help us developcompanion diagnostics," MacBeath says.
In terms of the timing of the deal, he notes that Merrimackis at the stage where, in the last two years particularly, the clinical programhas expanded quite dramatically with Phase II and Phase III trials, "and we'relooking for partnerships to help move the drugs along in development anddevelop companion diagnostics for them. Another strength of CTCA that attractedus to them was that they have an existing repository of patient biopsies andarchived tumor samples as well as data on clinical responses of patients. Thatworks for us not only in our current work but as something to learn from as weplan future clinical trials."