Shares of Innate Pharma (IPHA), a clinical-stage biotechnology company, are rocketing higher in response to successful clinical-trial data for an experimental cancer drug called monalizumab. Investors surprised by the results pushed the stock 107.8% higher when the market opened today. Some of the enthusiasm later fizzled and the stock's gain was reduced to 43.7% as of 12:24 p.m. EDT on Friday.
Monalizumab is currently in a phase 2 trial called Coast, in combination with Imfinzi from AstraZeneca (AZN 0.08%). Imfinzi is approved to treat advanced-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients with tumors that haven't grown since beginning standard first-line treatment.
Adding monalizumab to Imfinzi reduced patients' risk of disease progression or death by 35% compared to treatment with Imfinzi as a monotherapy.
Imfinzi and similar drugs that boost the immune system's ability to fight tumors can be highly effective for some patients, but most of the time they don't help at all. AstraZeneca and its big pharma peers are so eager to increase sales of their immunotherapies that they often shovel large sums of money at small biotechs with new drug candidates that could work well in combination.
Unfortunately for Innate Pharma, the Coast trial also randomized patients to receive oleclumab. This is an experimental treatment from AstraZeneca with a different mode of action that appears to work even better than monalizumab. Adding oleclumab to Imfinzi reduced lung cancer patients' risk of disease progression or death by 56%.
AstraZeneca acquired full oncology rights to monalizumab back in 2018 and will continue developing it in partnership with Innate Pharma. The big pharma intends to begin a pivotal trial with Imfinzi plus monalizumab, but we don't know when. While AstraZeneca intends to develop both new cancer drug candidates, oleclumab will probably get a lot more attention.