• Three cancer patients’ lesions disappear after Immutep’s (ASX:IMM)treatment
  • Treated with efti and Merck’s cancer-fighting drug Keytruda
  • Two patients had aggressive form resistant to most therapies

Sydney biotech company Immutep (ASX:IMM) says its lead drug candidate appears to have helped shrink the tumours of 16 patients with aggressive cancers – and even made three patients’ cancer lesions disappear entirely.

The cancer-fighting immunotherapy company said on Friday it had presented the interim results of two of its clinical trials into its drug candidate eftilagimod alpha (efti) at the ESMO Virtual Congress 2020.

In one trial, being conducted with Merck & Co. (MSD), seven of 18 patients with second-line head and neck squamous cell carcinoma treated with efti in conjunction with Merck’s cancer-fighting drug Keytruda showed improvement, and two who had their tumours completely disappear.

“We are very encouraged by the results in this patient group with resistant late-stage head and neck cancers where the likelihood of responses to other treatment is small,” said principal investigator Dr Martin Forster of University College London Hospital.

“The durability of responses and the two patients with complete response are extremely promising signals and this combination should be further investigated.”

On average the patients’ cancer took 4.3 months to progress, even though they weren’t undergoing chemotherapy, which is nearly double the progression-free survival time seen in comparable studies, according to Immutep.

Immutep chief medical officer Dr Frederic Triebel called the result “highly encouraging for efti”.

Two-thirds of patients with this very aggressive cancer were still alive at nine months, Immutep said.

Lung cancer patient’s tumours disappear

In another portion of the study, nine out of 17 lung cancer patients showed improved with one showing a “complete response” meaning their tumour had disappeared.

In 45 per cent of patients, the cancer hadn’t progressed after a year.

So far, the study has enrolled 89 out of 109 patients at 12 clinical trial sites across Australia, Europe, the UK and the United States.

Immutep said it expects to report more data from the Phase 2 clinical trial later this calendar year.

The company also reported a Phase 1 clinical trial that uses efti in conjunction with Merck’s antibody drug Bavencio to treat solid tumours, primarily gastrointestinal.

Five of the 12 patients had their tumours shrink, although none completely disappeared.

Still, lead investigator Professor Salah-Eddin Al-Batran, director of the Institute of Clinical Cancer Research in Frankfurt, Germany, called the results encouraging.

“These tumours are not typically responsive to immune checkpoint therapy and warrant further investigation,” he said.

Bell Potter rates a ‘buy’

Immutep’s efti is based on lymphocyte activation gene-3, which Dr Triebel discovered in 1990.

The protein is a key modulator of the immune system and could be used to treat autoimmune diseases as well as cancer.

Immutep shares were up nearly 21 per cent on Friday morning to 26c.

Further boosting the company, Bell Potter on Thursday initiated coverage on Immutep as a speculative buy, with a price target of 60c.

Efti has a unique mechanism of action and “blockbuster potential,” the brokerage wrote.