Merck wasn’t the only winner to emerge at AACR this year.
Art Krieg’s Checkmate Pharmaceuticals attracted considerable buzz for the biotech’s key proof-of-concept data on CMP-001, its TLR9 agonist designed to turn cold tumors hot and light them up for a checkpoint assault.
The Cambridge, MA-based biotech has gathered data on 69 patients in the ITT crowd whose melanoma proved resistant to a PD-1 assault. In that group, they recorded a 22% objective response rate with 2 complete and 13 partial responses for patients treated with a combination of the Checkmate drug plus Keytruda. Given that checkpoints are generally effective in about 1 out of 5 cases, demonstrating a potential to expand the population by roughly the same amount would be a significant improvement in the field — provided the data hold up.
“In this patient population, pembrolizumab alone would be unlikely to provide more than a 7% response rate,” said principal investigator Mohammed Milhem in a statement. “If the current results are confirmed, it appears that this combination could offer an effective treatment option for patients with advanced melanoma who are not responsive to pembrolizumab.”
The big idea here is simple enough: Activating TLR9 in plasmacytoid dendritic cells is designed to emit a burst of costimulatory molecules and tumor antigen to invite a T cell attack — which is what the PD-1/L1 crowd is designed to spur.
CEO Art Krieg also notes that researchers gathered some key biomarker data to demonstrate how the drug could activate the innate immune system.
“The mechanism of action of CMP-001 is not specific to melanoma, and should apply across most or perhaps all tumor types, including those that have not been PD-1 responsive in the past,” he said.
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