In waning Covid market, MiNK unveils data on natural killer T cell therapy for ARDS, pending contract with DARPA
In an SITC poster, Agenus’ spinout MiNK Therapeutics dropped the results of a Phase I/II study of its lead candidate, made from rare immune cells known as invariant natural killer T cells, or iNKT cells for short, for treating acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a serious complication of Covid.
MiNK was and still is developing the iNKT therapy, dubbed agenT-797, for treating cancer, but like others, it pivoted during the pandemic and started a small 20-person study in ARDS patients who were intubated or at high risk of being intubated. In the trial, patients who got MiNK’s therapy had a 70% chance of survival compared to 10% in a case control group of 20 patients at 30 days. In a more severe subgroup, three of four patients who were on ECMO, essentially an artificial lung machine, and got agenT-797 on top of that survived through 90 days.
Patients were dosed through October 2020 to February of this year, spanning multiple strains of Covid.
MiNK CEO Jennifer Buell emphasized that MiNK is still very much a cancer company, but it generated data around ARDS because of the pandemic. “We hadn’t launched the company to study the cells in this setting, but we knew historically that the cells were active in SARS-CoV-1, MERS,” Buell said.
However, the data come at a time at which companies are seeing their Covid-related sales fall. This past quarter, Pfizer saw its first revenue dip since its vaccine was authorized in 2020. And Moderna also cut its sales forecast during its Q3 report.
Moving forward, MiNK will continue to focus on the cancer applications of its iNKT cell therapy, but it will push the ARDS indication forward in a “non-dilutive way” through a pending DARPA contract, Buell said.
Buell noted that they are still in negotiations, but added that they could also look at other non-cancer indications. “We think that the benefit that we’ve observed in viral ARDS may be applicable to other lung diseases, fibrosis — there are a few other idiopathic lung diseases,” she said.
MiNK also presented very early cancer data with a median follow-up of 4 months. In patients with solid tumors who were treated with two to 11 lines of previous therapy, 5 had stable disease while 9 had progressive disease after receiving the iNKT cell therapy. Some got agenT-797 alone while others got it in combination with Keytruda or Opdivo. In eight evaluable patients with multiple myeloma, two had stable disease while the rest had progressive disease.
MiNK went public in October of last year under $INKT, but while it started out at around $12 a share, it’s now trading at around $2.50 — down around 80% all-time — amid the wider market downturn.