Amongst abstracts announced yesterday for the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting was positive data from a Phase II trial by Netherlands-based Merus.

Merus will present data from a Phase II study evaluating its leading bispecific antibody petosemtamab in combination with Merck & Co’s PD-1 inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab) as a first-line treatment for metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC)

The abstracts were released after market closed on 23 May and shares in Merus rose by 15% in premarket trading.

The abstract reveals that as of last November’s data cutoff date, 10 patients were evaluated for efficacy. Amongst them, one complete response, five partial responses, and three instances of stable disease, were reported leaving only one patient unresponsive to treatment. Additionally, among the 26 patients enrolled by the cutoff date, the regimen demonstrated a favourable safety profile with no significant overlapping toxicities, as noted by the study investigators. Updated findings will be presented on 3June at the upcoming ASCO 2024 Annual Meeting.

Merus will also be presenting abstracts  with two bispecific antibodies, developed based on its Biclonics platform, at the meeting, which kicks off next week. On 2 June, the company will present data from the Phase I trial of MCLA-145 in combination with Keytruda. A 3 June abstract will describe the efficacy and safety of MCLA-129, an anti-EGFR/c-MET bispecific antibody, in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with c-MET exon 14 skipping mutations (METex14).

Petosemtamab targets epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and leucine-rich repeat-containing G-protein coupled receptor 5 (LGR5). EGFR is a known oncogenic driver in HNSCC, and the LGR5 is a receptor expressed on cancer stem cells, including in HNSCC. According to GlobalData’s Pharma Intelligence Center, petosemtamab is forecast to generate $713m in sales in 2030.

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In February 2024, Merus teamed up with Gilead for the discovery of dual tumour-associated antigens-targeting trispecific antibodies – antibodies that can target three different antigens simultaneously.

In the announcement accompanying the abstracts, CEO of Merus Bill Lundberg said: “We believe petosemtamab continues to demonstrate potential best in class safety and efficacy in head and neck cancer. We are encouraged with the well tolerated safety profile of the combination of petosemtamab and pembrolizumab, particularly with a low rate of Grade 3 or greater adverse events, and a low rate of infusion-related reactions observed.”

Other clinical updates expected at the meeting include positive initial results from an ongoing Phase I/II trial investigating Verastem Oncology’s kinase inhibitor avutometinib for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.