Merck, Pfizer back Immutep cancer drug trial

med testAn Australian biotech firm will test a cancerous tumour-fighting drug in a clinical trial backed by pharmaceutical behemoths Merck and Pfizer.

Immutep has signed an agreement with the pharma giants for an early phase clinical trial to test the benefits of combining its immune-stimulating drug, eftilagimod alpha (efti) with avelumab, a targeted cancer therapy being developed by Merck and Pfizer.

Efti stimulates the body’s production of cancer-fighting immune cells, including t-cells, while avelumab increases the ability of the immune system to detect and fight tumour cells.

Combined therapies have become the standard treatment for cancers, Immutep’s chief executive Marc Voigt told AAP. Putting efti and avelumab together is like pressing the accelerator on the body’s immune system at different stages of the cancer-fighting cycle.

“There’s proof they work on their own, with limited indication, on let’s say about 20 to 30 per cent of patients – so why not increase that?” Voigt asked.

It’s very rare to see two, let alone three pharmaceutical companies work together on a clinical trial, he said, adding Immutep also inked a deal with Merck Germany in March. The trial, due to begin this year, will inject 12 patients with two doses of the drugs to test their safety and tolerability, with results due early in 2019. The company is also expecting results from its own double-blind trial of efti on 226 patients with metastatic, or stage four, breast cancer.

“2019 is going to be a big year for the company,” Voigt said on Monday.

Immutep shares were up 0.4 cents, or 9.8 per cent, to 4.5 cents at 1531 AEST.

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