Merck announced that it has launched a clinical trial network to increase the productivity and effectiveness of its growing oncology division. Rather than hire a new team of investigators for every clinical trial it conducts, Merck created a network of experienced investigators who have had the opportunity to see many of the company’s molecules, know the patient community very well, and are aware of the problems Merck is trying to solve.
Merck also gains access to the investigator’s intellectual skills and capabilities as well as access to new technologies and ideas.
“We wanted to have a longitudinal relationship with the investigators, where they would get to know our pipeline well and can help us evaluate it—not just run one-off clinical trials,” said Eliav Barr, vice president of projects and pipeline management, Oncology, Merck Research Laboratories. “If they know the drugs really well, and they know what we have in the pipeline, and they know our personalized medicine needs—both in the short and long term—then we can develop programs that are designed to compare drugs better or to pick the winners from drugs entering Phase I trials.”
This network will have the opportunity to study all of Merck’s early-stage development drugs, conduct trials sponsored by Merck, and develop investigator-initiated studies that are based on ideas solely from the investigators.
“We would give those studies equal weight so that we can have a more broad-based research program,” Barr said.
This program is being launched partially for efficiency reasons, but also to improve the quality of input from senior investigators in the field. It will provide a forum and funding that allows the investigators to have intellectual freedom with deep knowledge of the compounds, allowing them to design their own studies.
Barr made it clear that the researchers that will comprise the network are independent investigators that can work with any other pharma company.
However, because Merck is partnering with only a small number of sites (15–25) and is funding the research, the company expects that the investigators will take the time and effort to look at its compounds and choose the best possible candidates for clinical trials.
“It’s a mutual exchange of time and resources,” Barr said. “It’s a joint development leadership approach that spans preclinical, translational, and clinical research.”
The sites have been chosen and Merck is the process of finishing up negotiations.
The following US-based centers are partners in the Merck Oncology Collaborative Trials Network:
Mayo Clinic Cancer Center (Rochester, MN; Scottsdale, AZ; and Jacksonville, FL)
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, TX)
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York, NY)
START Clinic (San Antonio, TX)
UCSF Medical Center (San Francisco, CA)