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Immutep is the latest Australian biotech targeted by big pharma.

The cancer sniper today announced a collaboration and supply agreement with US giant, Merck.

The pair will evaluate the combination of Immutep’s lead immunotherapy product eftilagimod alpha – known as IMP321 – with Merck’s KEYTRUDA to fight several solid tumours.

Immutep shares (ASX:IMM) were up 13 per cent to 2.7c in Monday morning trade.

It’s Merck second deal with an ASX-listed biotech this year. The US giant earlier agrred to dish out $500 million in the acquisition of Viralytics.

ASX-listed biotechs have seen a wave of attention from US drug companies this year.

Unlike traditional cancer treatments, KEYTRUDA is not a chemotherapy or radiation therapy. It is a humanised antibody that uses a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer – redirecting immune cells to attack the location of the cancer.

A planned Phase II clinical trial will evaluate the safety and efficacy of the treatment combination with non-small cell lung cancer, head and neck cancer, or ovarian cancer.

Up to 120 patients will be studied as part of the trial, treated across medical centres in Europe and the US and expected to kick off in the second half of 2018.

Immutep (IMM) share price movements over the past 6 months.
Immutep (IMM) share price movements over the past 6 months.


“We are extremely pleased to be collaborating with MSD, one of the world’s leading immuno-oncology companies” said IMM chief Marc Voigt.

“This clinical trial will evaluate a novel combination of two complementary immuno-oncology treatments in three cancer indications simultaneously, which could lead to more rapid drug development subject to successful outcomes.”

The partnership builds on early findings from a study on melanoma. The company described its treatment as an accelerator of immune cell production while Keytruda was a brake on cancer cells.

In a big day for the small cap, it also announced a $6.85 million raise through an institutional placement with partners the likes of Australian Ethical Investment, Ridgeback Capital Investments and former chairperson Lucy Turnbull.

Proceeds from the Placement will be used to support Immutep’s ongoing and planned immunooncology (“IO“) clinical development programs, its pre-clinical program in autoimmune disease and for general working capital purposes.