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Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) said today it has joined with Merck KGaA to identify treatment response biomarker signatures in patients with advanced melanoma, through a joint pilot project whose value was not disclosed.

HLI and Merck KGaA will focus on identifying biomarkers in patients with locally advanced or metastatic NRAS mutated cutaneous melanoma that show a preferential response to Merck’s oral small-molecule MEK1/2 inhibitor pimasertib.

MEK1/2 are dual-specificity threonine/tyrosine kinases that have been shown to play key roles in the activation of the RAS/RAF/MEK/ERK pathway and are often upregulated in a variety of tumor cell types.

HLI said it will generate genomic sequencing data from the tumor and germline of clinical trial participants, then interpret and analyze the findings in the context of survival and other clinical data, using machine learning and analytical tools and expertise.

Through the collaboration with Merck KGaA, HLI said, it aims to fulfill its mission of revolutionizing drug development and medical use of next generation therapeutics.

“Our agreement with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany will enable us to work together to discover novel insights that improve patient survival in melanoma,” HLI CEO Cindy Collins said in a statement. “We believe our first pilot project is of great importance for society, and look forward to working with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany to impact the treatment of melanoma.”

The collaboration comes more than a year after HLI partnered with another pharma giant by agreeing to sequence and analyze up to 500,000 DNA samples from patients in AstraZeneca clinical trials over 10 years. The value of the collaboration with the pharma giant and its global biologics R&D arm MedImmune was also not disclosed.

San Diego-based HLI is building the world's largest database of genomic, phenotypic, and clinical information, and has said that it is on track to on track to have a database of 1 million integrated health records by 2020. HLI has sequenced approximately 40,000 high-quality genomes and is building a database of genomic and phenotypic integrated health records.

Customers of HLI include pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, life insurance companies, large academic medical centers, physicians and individuals.

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