The French company Transgene signed a new a collaboration agreement with Merck KGaA and Pfizer, under which it will sponsor a phase 1/2 study evaluating the potential of the therapeutic vaccine candidate TG4001 in combination with avelumab – an investigational fully human anti-PD-L1 IgG1 monoclonal antibody – for the treatment of human papilloma virus-positive head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, after failure of standard therapy.

The combination of TG4001 and avelumab aims to target two distinct steps in the immune response to target cancer cells. TG4001 is an active immunotherapeutic designed by Transgene to express the coding sequences of the E6 & E7 tumor-associated antigens of HPV-16 and the cytokine, IL-2. Avelumab is an investigational, fully human antibody specific for PD-L1 protein found on tumor cells. In 2014 Merck and Pfizer signed a strategic alliance to co-develop and co-commercialize avelumab.