- If approved by the FDA, avelumab, an investigational immunotherapy, could be the first treatment indicated for patients with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC)
- Avelumab has previously received FDA Breakthrough Therapy and Fast Track Designations for metastatic MCC, as well as FDA Orphan Drug Designation for MCC*
Merck and Pfizer Inc. have announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accepted for Priority Review the Biologics License Application (BLA) for avelumab, which was submitted by EMD Serono, the biopharmaceutical business of Merck in the US and Canada.
This review relates to avelumab’s proposed use in patients with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), based on tumor response results from the JAVELIN Merkel 200 trial.
Avelumab is an investigational fully human anti-PD-L1 IgG1 monoclonal antibody and could be the first treatment indicated for metastatic MCC in the US, if approved.
* MCC is a rare and aggressive skin cancer, which impacts approximately 2,500 Americans a year.(1,2)
“We are pleased the FDA has granted a Priority Review designation for avelumab,” said Luciano Rossetti, M.D., Executive Vice President, Global Head of Research & Development at the biopharma business of Merck. “There are currently no approved treatment options for metastatic MCC, and we are committed to working with the FDA to potentially bring the first approved cancer immunotherapy to patients with this aggressive disease.”
The avelumab metastatic MCC BLA submission is supported by data from JAVELIN Merkel 200, a multicenter, single-arm, open-label, Phase II study of 88 patients with metastatic MCC, whose disease had progressed after at least one chemotherapy treatment.1 The JAVELIN Merkel 200 study represents the largest data set of any anti-PD-L1/PD-1 antibody reported in this patient population. These data were presented in June 2016 at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and published in the Lancet Oncology in October 2016.1
“Metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma is an aggressive disease, and patients face a very poor prognosis, with less than 20 percent surviving beyond five years,” said Chris Boshoff, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Head of Immuno-oncology, Early Development and Translational Oncology, Pfizer Global Product Development. “We are encouraged by the results of our Phase II trial and believe avelumab may have potential to be an important treatment option for patients living with this hard-to-treat skin cancer.”
The FDA’s Priority Review status reduces the review time from 10 months to a goal of six months from the day of filing and is given to drugs that may offer major advances in treatment or may provide a treatment where no adequate therapy exists. The FDA previously granted avelumab Orphan Drug Designation for MCC, as well as Fast Track and Breakthrough Therapy Designations for the treatment of patients with metastatic MCC whose disease has progressed after at least one previous chemotherapy regimen. Breakthrough Therapy Designation is intended to expedite the development and review of treatments for serious or life-threatening disease where preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement over existing therapies for one or more endpoints.3Additionally, the European Medicines Agency has validated for review Merck’s Marketing Authorization Application (MAA) for avelumab, for the proposed indication of metastatic MCC.
The clinical development program for avelumab, known as JAVELIN, involves at least 30 clinical programs and more than 3,000 patients evaluated across more than 15 different tumor types. In addition to metastatic MCC, these cancers include breast, gastric/gastroesophageal junction, head and neck, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, melanoma, mesothelioma, non-small cell lung, ovarian, renal cell carcinoma and urothelial (primarily bladder).
*Avelumab is not approved for any indication in any market. This marks the first acceptance of an application by the US FDA to review the investigational product, avelumab.
1. Kaufman HL, et al. Avelumab in patients with chemotherapy-refractory metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma: a multicentre, single-group, open-label, phase 2 trial. Lancet Oncology. 2016;17(10);1374–85.
2. Fitzgerald T et al. Dramatic increase in the incidence and mortality from Merkel cell carcinoma in the United States. The American Journal of Surgery. 2015;81(8):802-6.
3. FDA. Priority Review. http://www.fda.gov/ForPatients/Approvals/Fast/ucm405405.htm. Last accessed October 2016.
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5. American Cancer Society. What is Merkel cell carcinoma? http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-merkelcell/detailedguide/skin-cancer-merkel-cell-carcinoma-what-is-merkel-cell-carcinoma. Last accessed October 2016.
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10. NCCN Merkel Cell Carcinoma Guidelines version I. 2017. www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/PDF/mcc.pdf. Last accessed October 2016.