Asco 2021 – Abstract lift drives first stock moves

A handful of small caps, including Sensei and PDS, jumped on Asco abstract data, with much more news to come.

The unveiling of the Asco abstracts is one of the biggest events of the year for followers of oncology stocks and, despite going virtual for the second year running, 2021 looks set to deliver its fair share of crucial updates. 

Much of the most important data remains under wraps, however, with late breaking abstracts due to be release at 5pm ET on June 3, the day before the meeting gets under way. Small cap developers have delivered the sharpest share price rises so far, with Sensei and PDS jumping 30% and 27% on largely incremental updates. Meanwhile Merus’s bispecific update failed to excite, with the stock ending up down 16%. 

First to the risers, with newly-listed immuno-oncology player Sensei getting a boost from data from an ongoing trial of its lead asset in head and neck cancer. SNS-310 is an inactivated bacteriophage virus expressing ASPH, an antigen that Sensei says is over-expressed in several tumour types. 

A poster presentation will detail responses in 12 patients who failed to respond to PD-1 blockade, with a 67% (8/12) response rate, including one partial response and seven cases of stable disease. 

Despite the share price jump to $12.66 Sensei stock remains well below the $19 at which it floated in January. PDS stock, meanwhile, is now trading at its highest level since the company reversed into a failed biotech back in March 2019, thanks to data being generated by an NCI-led study of the company’s lead project, PDS0101. 

A triple combination of PDS0101 and two Merck KGaA assets – the IL-12 asset M9241 and TGF-β/PD-L1 fusion protein bintrafusp alfa – is being trialled in patients with refractory HPV16-associated cancers. The abstract details a 71% (10/14) ORR, with one complete response and nine partials, although a later cut of the data is expected at the conference. 

Important Asco late breaking and plenary abstracts
Company Project Trial details Abstract 
Merck & Co
Lynparza Olympia: ph3 trial of adjuvant Lynparza after (neo)adjuvant chemo in germline BRCA1/2 mutations and high-risk HER2-negative early breast cancer LBA1
Merck & Co Keytruda Keynote-564: ph3 trial of Keytruda as post-nephrectomy adjuvant therapy for patients with renal cell carcinoma LBA5
Novartis 177Lu-PSMA-617 Vision: Ph3 trial of 177Lu-PSMA-617 in metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer LBA4
Coherus Biosciences/
Junshi Biosciences
Tuoyi Jupiter-02: ph3 trial of Tuoyi (toripalimab) plus chemo as first-line treatment for recurrent or metastatic nasopharyngeal carcinoma LBA2
Bristol Myers Squibb Opdivo & Yervoy Checkmate-648: Opdivo plus Yervoy or chemo as first-line treatment for advanced oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma  First results of the CheckMate 648 study. LBA4001
Source: Leerink.

Other risers yesterday included Lag3 developer Immutep, which is presenting three posters at the conference containing updates from ongoing trials of eftilagimod alpha. The stock jump yesterday, taking the Australian developer to a six-year high, was more to do with Bristol Myers Squibb’s success with its Lag3 asset, relatlimab.

Merus was not the only faller yesterday, with Alpine Immune and Black Diamond Therapeutics also nursing losses, down 17% and 37% respectively. 

One unconfirmed partial response among 11 evaluable subjects from Alpine’s CD28 costimulator and dual checkpoint inhibitor, ALPN-202, failed to impress. Dose escalation continues, however.

Black Diamond meanwhile is targeting intractable tumour types driven by various EGFR or HER2 mutations. At the maximum tolerated dose for once-a-day pill BDTX-189 generated two partial responses, only one of which was confirmed, three cases of stable disease and progressive disease in 10 subjects. 

Enrolment in other dosing cohorts is ongoing but these data were a big disappointment from another of 2021’s IPO cohort. The stock is now trading 17% below its float price, with yesterday’s plunge erasing $300m from the company’s market cap. 

This is far from an exhaustive review of notable presentations, of course, and with much more data due in the coming weeks, the Asco trading period is far from over. 

Selected Asco abstracts of note
Company Project MoA Abstract Data summary
Adaptimmune Afami-cel Anti-Mage-A4 eTCR 11504 Adaptimmune’s T-cell receptors see a route to market
Alkermes Nemvaleukin IL-2 mimic 2513 Responses seen in monotherapy and with Keytruda across various tumours 
Allogene ALLO-501 Anti-CD19 allo Car-T 2529 Off-the-shelf cell therapy inches towards reality
Alpine Immune ALPN-202 Conditional CD28 costimulator and dual checkpoint inhibitor 2547 Ph1 dose escalation; 1 unconfirmed PR and 5 SD in 11 subjects
Arcus Etrumadenant + zimberelimab + AB680 A2aR/A2bR antagonist + anti-PD-1 + anti-CD73 5039 In evaluable pts, PSA response 5/14, radiographic response 3/8, with 1 CR, composite response rate was 43% (6/14)
Black Diamond BDTX-189  EGFR/HER2 kinase inhibitor 3086 Of 15 evaluable, 1 confirmed PR, 3 SD and 10 progressive disease
Bristol Myers Squibb Relatlimab Anti-Lag3 MAb 9503 Bristol’s Lag3 case for a replacement for Yervoy
Cullinan CLN-081 EGFR Exon20 inhibitor 9077 Of 25 evaluable, 10 PRs, 14 SD, 1 progressive disease. Later cut to be presented
G1 Rintodestrant  SERD 1063 Ph1 safety data: rintodestrant-related AEs in 8%, all grade 2
I-Mab Uliledlimab Anti-CD73 MAb 2511 Of 13 evaluable, 3 CRs or PRs (ORR 23%) and 3 SD (disease control rate 46%).
Immunogen Mirvetuximab Anti-FRα ADC 5504 Of 33 pts with high FRα expression ORR 64%, mDOR of 11.8 months, and mPFS of 10.6 months (Forward I study failed in all-comers)
Immutep eftilagimod alpha Lag3  9046; 6028; 2518  Data from ongoing Ph2 trials in combination with Keytruda (NSCLC & H&N), and Ph1 plus Bavencio.  
Kadmon KD033  Anti-PD-L1/IL-15 fusion protein  2568 Of 6 evaluable, 1 SD
Macrogenics MGC018  Anti-B7-H3 ADC 2631 3 unconfirmed PRs in melanoma pts
Merus Zenocutuzumab Anti-Her2/Her3 bispecific 3003 Merus intrigues in pancreatic cancer
Roche Tecentriq Anti-PD-L1 MAb 8500 Adjuvant lung cancer beckons for Tecentriq, but only in PD-L1 expressers
SQZ Biotechnologies SQZ-PBMC-HPV-101 

T-cell surface glycoprotein CD8 stimulant

2536 4 SD in 10 evaluable pts 
Sutro STRO-002  FRα inhibitor 5550 Of 31 evaluable, 1 CR, 4 confirmed PR, and 5 unconfirmed PR. Disease control rate was 74% at 12 weeks and 61% at 16 weeks. 
Sensei  SNS-301 ASPH targeted bacteriophage  6029 67% response rate in 12 PD-1 refractory H&N patients 
PDS Biotech PDS0101 HPV targeted T cell activator  2501 In combination with M9241 and bintrafusp alfa, ORR of 71%
Source: Asco abstracts.

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