SURF stock rose higher in early trading on May 21, 2020, after news of a collaboration with Merck was announced.

On May 20, 2020, After Surface Oncology (SURF) announced clinical collaboration with Merck (MRK) on Keytruda for combination study with Surface’s SRF617 targeting CD39, JonesTrading analyst Soumit Roy said he sees the collaboration positioning Surface well as peer’s data start to come out regarding IO combos in NSCLC. The analyst, who believes any positive data in the adenosine space at ASCO will be viewed positively for Surface, reiterates a Buy rating and $12 price target on the shares.

Surface Oncology (Nasdaq: SURF), a clinical-stage immuno-oncology company developing next-generation immunotherapies that target the tumor microenvironment, announced on May 20, 2020, that it has entered into a clinical trial collaboration with Merck (NYSE: MRK), known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, through a subsidiary, to evaluate the safety and efficacy of combining Surface’s SRF617, an investigational antibody therapy targeting CD39, with Merck’s KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab), the first anti-PD-1 therapy approved in the United States. This combination will be studied as a component of the first-in-human Phase 1/1b study of SRF617 and will be evaluated in patients with solid tumors, with a focus on patients with gastric cancer and those who have developed resistance to checkpoint inhibition — both areas of high unmet need.

SRF617 inhibits CD39, an enzyme critical both to the breakdown of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and the production of adenosine. A substantial body of research supports a role for CD39 in allowing cancer to evade immune responses. For example, in gastric cancer, immune cells within the tumor often express high levels of CD39, which may impair an overall anti-cancer immune response even in the presence of an anti-PD-1 antibody. The combination of SRF617 and KEYTRUDA has the potential to overcome this barrier to immune system activation and promote anti-tumor immunity.

“Surface is committed to delivering truly breakthrough therapies that can transform treatment for people with cancer. This collaboration with Merck will add an important dimension to our clinical program for SRF617, and allow us to more rapidly assess its potential,” said Robert Ross, M.D., chief medical officer at Surface Oncology. “We have demonstrated in preclinical studies that the inhibition of CD39 results in substantial activation of both the innate and adaptive arms of the immune system. Encouragingly, we also found that activation is heightened in combination with anti-PD-1 treatment and that this combinatory approach has the potential to overcome anti-PD-1 resistance.”

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