US pharma giant Merck & Co, is maintaining it proactive Australian streak, by announcing a collaborative deal with Australian biotech company Immutep (ASX: IMM), as part of clinical trials of their respective drug candidates and treatments.
The planned Phase 2 clinical trial, referred to as “TACTI-002” includes two active immunotherapies — one provided by Merck and the other by Immutep. The two companies plan on evaluating the safety and efficacy of its combination amongst patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), head and neck cancer, or ovarian cancer.
The two companies intend to specialise in their own formulations with a view of generating better results when combined into one bespoke therapy.
Immutep’s lead immunotherapy product candidate is called “eftilagimod alpha”, or efti. Efti will be combined with Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) in a new clinical trial that will evaluate the combination within several different solid tumours.
Immutep’s efti is a first-in-class antigen presenting cell activator which stimulates cancer-fighting T cells, while KEYTRUDA is an anti-PD-1 therapy that works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumour cells.
According to Immutep, the trial will be conducted with up to 120 patients to be treated in “medical centres in Europe and the United States,” and is expected to commence in the latter part of this year.
“We are extremely pleased to be collaborating with Merck, one of the world’s leading immuno-oncology companies. 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,” said Marc Voigt, CEO of Immutep.
“The data generated thus far from our ongoing TACTI-mel clinical trial has supported our hypothesis that there is a compelling therapeutic synergy in administering efti in combination with another immuno-oncology treatment. This new Phase II clinical trial significantly builds on the momentum we are delivering in the evaluation of efti in cancer, with two Phase I clinical trials and now two Phase II clinical trials in our program for 2018,” Mr Voigt added.
As part of its overarching development and to help facilitate its clinical trial schedule, Immutep has raised A$6.85 million as part of an institutional Placement.
Immutep told the market that the raised capital will be used to “support Immutep’s ongoing and planned immune-oncology clinical development programs, its pre-clinical program in autoimmune disease and for working capital purposes.”
As a result of the capital raising, Immutep attracted funding and welcomes two new institutional names to its share register. Existing shareholders in the form of former Chairman Lucy Turnbull and Ridgeback Capital Investments, raised their stakes in Immutep, while Platinum Asset Management and Australian Ethical Investments, became Immutep investors for the first time.
Following its Placement to institutional shareholders, Immutep has also initiated a share purchase plan offer for all its eligible shareholders based in Australia and New Zealand — effectively expanding its placement to individual shareholders. Immutep is seeking to raise a further A$10 million and will likely update the market upon further developments.