Cancer-fighting biotech Immutep (ASX:IMM) was among the market leaders this morning after flagging some positive trial results.

The company is currently running a Phase IIb study for its lead drug candidate, eftilagimod alpha (efti), as an immunotherapy solution for patients with late-stage breast cancer.

Immutep said that the drug appeared to extend patients’ lifespan by 2.7 months when taken in combination with chemotherapy, compared to patients treated with chemotherapy alone.

The treatment was used for patients “known to be insensitive to immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy”, the company said.

Shares in Immutep jumped by more than 50 per cent in morning trade to 42.5c.

The stock is now back trading near 2020 highs, after it slumped to around 10c following previous trial results on March 25.

Promising and improving

The 76 patients who had the Immutep breast cancer treatment survived on average 20.2 months, compared with 17.5 months for the 71 patients who hadn’t used the Immutep drug in conjunction with chemotherapy, the company said.

The increased survival rates correlated with a statistically significant increase in a certain type of T-cells involved in fighting cancer – an important proof of concept showing that efti is working.

The survival benefit was even better in younger patients. Patients under 65 on the Immutep drug plus chemotherapy lived an average of 21.9 months, 7.1 months longer than those who received chemotherapy plus placebo.

The survival rate “data in subgroups such as those below age 65 years are highly encouraging and may lead to more effective treatment options for metastatic breast cancer patients,”  said principal investigator of the study, Hans Wildiers.

Immutep chief medical officer Dr Frederic Triebel said the result supports the company’s belief that efti can be an effective activator of the body’s own immune system in fighting late-stage cancer.

“Metastatic breast cancer is typically a non-immunogenic cancer, and is therefore significantly less responsive to modern immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapies,” he said.

“As such, chemotherapy continues to be the standard of care in many instances and there continues to be a large unmet medical need.”

For investors wondering what comes next, Immutep said “multivariate analysis of the data is ongoing, and final OS (overall survival) data is expected to be reported in mid-2021”.

China study

Along with its latest results, the dual-listed Immutep (NASDAQ: IMMP) announced a new Phase II clinical trial in China.

The company’s Chinese partner, EOC Pharma, will commence the trial in the first quarter of next year.

Similar to its AIPAC study, the trial will be a “randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase II clinical study”, IMM said.

EOC Pharma will run the test for up to 152 metastatic breast cancer patients in China to evaluate the efti treatment.

The trial will run over a period of 24 months and is expected to take place at 20 clinical trial sites across China.

EOC Pharma CEO Xiaoming Zou said breast cancer is now the most common form of cancer in Chinese women, and kills around 1.2m people each year.

The trial has received approval from the Chinese National Medical Products Administration ahead of its Q1 launch, the company said.

Combined with the AIPAC study, Immutep CEO Marc Voigt said excitement is now building about the potential for efti to be a game-changing treatment, when combined with paclitaxel chemotherapy in the battle against metastatic breast cancer.