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AACR: Apexigen, BMS steal the show with promising I-O combo in pancreatic cancer

Last August, tiny California biotech Apexigen revved up its pipeline with a $73 million venture roundthat allowed it to move its lead immuno-oncology candidate into clinical trials. Now, it’s rolling out early data from that research that are turning heads at the annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting in Atlanta.

Apexigen is testing a combination of its CD40-activating antibody with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s PD-1 inhibitor Opdivo and chemotherapy in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. At AACR, they announced that the combination shrunk tumors in 20 out of 24 patients that could be analyzed in an interim review of a phase 1b study. The results were so encouraging that the trial has moved to phase 2, the presenters said.

Apexigen’s immuno-oncology drug candidate, APX005M, was designed to stimulate several elements of the immune system so that it’s better equipped to recognize and fight cancer. The company’s strategy is to combine it with other I-O treatments in cancer. Toward that end, it is collaborating with several drug developers in addition to BMS including Boehringer Ingelheim and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen.

In the trial described at AACR, half the participants are receiving chemotherapy plus APX005M and half are getting that combo plus Opdivo. Most of the patients experienced side effects, but several were able to stay on the regimen for about a year, said investigators from the University of Pennsylvania, one of the clinical trial sites, during the AACR presentation.

“We are very excited about the encouraging data so far, especially because metastatic pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of less than 9 percent, making it an area of high unmet medical need,” said the Parker Institute’s Chief Medical Officer Ramy Ibrahim, M.D., in a statement.

The AACR announcement marked the first clinical data out of a study funded by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, which was founded in 2016 by Facebook billionaire Sean Parker. The institute developed the trial in collaboration with the I-O focused nonprofit Cancer Research Institute.

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