Atara Biotherapeutics Partners With Merck

Atara Biotherapeutics said early Friday it signed an agreement with Merck (MRK) to work together on a clinical trial using its ATA129 experimental drug and Merck’s Keytruda for a form of head and neck cancer.

ATA129 is Atara’s investigational therapy in which a healthy donor’s T-cells are stimulated to recognize Epstein-Barr virus antigens, or viral proteins, expressed in the cells of certain liquid and solid tumors, Atara said. Keytruda, also known as pembrolizumab, is an antibody that works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells. The phase 1/2 trial will evaluate the safety, characteristics and preliminary efficacy of the combination and is due to start in 2018, Atara said.

By Jon Flanagan