Immutep Limited (ASX:IMM) Executive Director and CEO Marc Voigt discusses the company’s LAG-3-related therapies, outlining future plans and expected data readouts for Immutep’s lead drug, eftilagimod alpha.
Melissa Darmawan: Thanks for tuning in. I’m Melissa Darmawan for the Finance News Network. Joining me from Immutep (ASX:IMM) is Executive Director and CEO Marc Voigt. Marc, good morning. How are you?
Marc Voigt: Good to see you, Mel.
Melissa Darmawan: Marc, Immutep is focused on an area of cancer treatment called immuno-oncology. Can you explain broadly what you’re aiming to do?
Marc Voigt: Indeed. Yes, we are focused on immuno-oncology. I have to say, also, we’re active in autoimmune diseases, but what we’re trying to do is to enable the patient’s own immune system to actively fight cancer.
Melissa Darmawan: Going into more detail, all four of your drugs have leveraged the LAG-3 immune pathway called an immune checkpoint. This area of cancer has recently had exciting news. Can you tell us about it?
Marc Voigt: Yeah. So, it’s a very exciting journey. And that journey for LAG-3, which is now one of the big so-called immune checkpoints, has seen the first FDA approval. So, it has been approved in the United States, a drug from Bristol Myers Squibb. So it’s the first ever LAG-3-related drug which has been approved. Meaning, for us — Immutep is a leader in LAG-3 — that we are working on a validated basis, also from a regulatory and commercial point of view. And overall, maybe a few words regarding the immune checkpoints. Those immune checkpoint therapies have been changing the way you treat cancer today, in the past 10 years, in a very dramatic way. In the past, so more than a decade ago, you saw for most chemotherapy, you saw targeted therapies, and then you saw the so-called immune checkpoint inhibitors coming into play, dramatically changing the way you treat patients in more than 30 cancer indications, where you’ll see, for instance, one kilo of lung tumour shrinking because of your own T-cells. So, the principle of all these therapies is to use the body’s own immune system to actively fight cancer. But there are, of course, key differences, and it’s not happening often that immune checkpoints get this validation. So, it happened back in 2011 with CTLA-4. The more prominent immune checkpoint PD-1, with multibillion dollar blockbuster drugs based upon that, like Keytruda, in ’13, ’14. And now, in ’21, ’22, we see LAG-3 emerging and being validated. And, of course, for us, as a leader in the space, that’s fabulous.
Melissa Darmawan: How unique is efti in the LAG-3 landscape? Can you compete now, given that there’s an approved drug in the space?
Marc Voigt: First of all, there are different LAG-3-related therapies. We have four. More than anyone else, including Big Pharma. Two of them are positioned in autoimmune diseases and two of them are positioned in immuno-oncology. So, one of our approaches, we have been exclusively worldwide out-licensing to Novartis, and they are competing with Bristol Myers Squibb. For a biotech company, it would be a bit challenging maybe to compete against big pharmaceutical industries. So, we have our flagship drug, called eftilagimod alpha, or efti, that’s easier, as a unique MHC class II agonist. So, there we use LAG-3 as a tool to activate the patient’s immune system, and there is no direct competition for the mode of action.
Melissa Darmawan: What are Immutep’s plans for efti?
Marc Voigt: We have, first of all, I believe, a good clinical program around efti in different clinical trials in metastatic breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, head and neck cancer, other solid tumours. And, of course, we would like to further expand our clinical trial programs, so to see maybe potential in other indications, but also to move forwards towards registration. We have one registration setting ongoing, called TACTI-003, in first-line head and neck cancer. And we would like to see a second one starting in the foreseeable future.
Melissa Darmawan: Last question from me. What are the key data readouts ahead for Immutep?
Marc Voigt: We have a very exciting first half of 2022. Recently, the second-line non-small cell lung cancer data, the first interim data. Then we are going to see, in early May, data from metastatic breast cancer, additional data. We had a readout in November last year, but biomarker-related work has been done. And then we also said that we are going to release data, and I personally believe, strategically most important, in terms of first-line non-small cell lung cancer in first half of this year. So, in the remaining three months, practically, give or take. And this data is important because it will be from more than 100 patients. And, if positive, could enable us to do the next major step, which would be a registration trial in that indication, the largest cancer indication of first-line non-small cell lung cancer.
Melissa Darmawan: Marc, it was great to have you in Sydney again. Thanks for the insights.
Marc Voigt: Mel, thank you so much. It was a pleasure.