Imugene Limited (ASX:IMU) CEO Leslie Chong talks cancer trials for the company's lead drug candidate HER-Vaxx, strategy and outlook.
Jessica Amir: Hi I’m Jessica Amir for the Finance News Network. Joining me from Imugene Limited (ASX:IMU) is CEO, Leslie Chong. Leslie, welcome to the Finance News Network.
Leslie Chong: Thank you so much for having me.
Jessica Amir: First up for those not familiar with Imugene. Can you give us an introduction?
Leslie Chong:Imugene is a biotech company out of Melbourne, Australia and we’re squarely in the immuno-oncology space. We have a technology, which invokes your B-cells to produce antibodies against a cancer target. So meaning, we basically invoke your immune system to create the drug, against your cancer target. I have an incredible management and leadership team. This technology was originally founded by Dr Axel Hoos, who is currently the Senior Vice President of GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals Limited (NSE:GLAXO).
When he was in between BMS (Bristol-Myers Squibb) (NYSE:BMY) and Glaxo, he founded this technology at the Medical University of Vienna. Liked it so much and hiked it over to my now Chairman, Paul Hopper, to create a company around this particular technology of invoking your B-cells, to make the medication towards your cancer target.So on in addition to that, we have Christoph Zielinski, who is a President nominee of the European Society of Medical Oncology. Now that is made up of roughly about 30,000 oncologists and he heads up our scientific advisory board.
Jessica Amir: That’s impressive Leslie, because I understand it’s quite unique for a biotech company in Australia, to have such a backbone. But now can you tell us about your FY17 results. What were some of the highlights?
Leslie Chong: We had a great year in that our first in-clinic product, called HER-Vaxx is already in the clinic with patients. We’ve gotten some really promising results back thus far, that I’m hoping to announce fairly soon. We had our existing institutional investors like Platinum Capital Limited (ASX:PMC) and private portfolio managers, who took it upon themselves to underwrite our options that were expiring, back in March of 2017.
So that brought in some funding to the company and we’re waiting obviously for the R&D rebate. So we’re set up quite nicely.When I joined the company roughly about two years ago, the market cap was around $10 million and I’m happy to report that it’s covering around $40 million, at the moment.
Jessica Amir: Now to your portfolio. Can you talk about your immuno-therapies, starting with HERR-Vaxx?
Leslie Chong: HERR-Vaxx was previously in a Phase 1a study in breast cancer, out of the University of Vienna. Now I’m happy to report that it is currently in the gastric cancer setting, because we can acquire newly diagnosed patients. And we have a few patients on, and from what I understand from the oncologists, they’re doing great. So I’m happy to report that, so that’s ongoing.
Jessica Amir: Can you explain what a Mimotope is and tell us about your Mimotopes program?
Leslie Chong: A Mimotope is basically we take a known antibody, we can reverse engineer that into a B-cell peptide vaccine. Meaning we can invoke your B-cells to create the antibodies or the medication against a particular cancer target, and we have a discovery pipeline of those. And when we identify which one is the best candidate, meaning which one we’re going to take into the clinic, we will be announcing that quite soon.
Jessica Amir: Aside from that, do you have any other projects that you’re working on?
Leslie Chong: We like the idea of amassing things that couple really nicely, or play nicely with existing biotech and pharmaceutical companies’ pipeline, or portfolio. And so we’ve got these things called – it’s more molecules called, Arginine Modulators that could in effect make your T-cells or T-cell therapy, work that much better. So you could understand that in combination, if we could improve on an existing product - that could be quite attractive to biotech and pharmaceutical companies.
Jessica Amir: What’s the size of the market and what are the partnering opportunities?
Leslie Chong:Immuno-oncology is a really hot space at the moment. It could range from anywhere between $1 million to $2 billion and they’re taking deals or partnership, at earlier stages, meaning at pre-clinical levels to Phase 1s. And on the average in 2016, it was roughly around $500 million for deals. But it strongly will depend on the strength of the data that we produce, the competitive landscape and the biotech pharmaceutical portfolios, on how we best fit in. But I think we have a great opportunity here.
Jessica Amir: A more general question now Leslie. Immuno-oncology has got many benefits above other cancer therapies, can you explain why that’s so?
Leslie Chong:Immuno-oncology therapies allow your immune system to either mount a full attack against your cancer. Or unveils it so that your immune system can actually work, like it’s supposed to. So it is putting the word cure in front of cancer that’s never been done before. So that’s where all the excitement is. We find that cancer can be really smart, but immuno-therapies allow your body to be smarter.
Jessica Amir: What’s the goal for the company over the next 12 months and longer-term?
Leslie Chong: Within 12 months, we’ll have a full set of data around safety and immunogenicity around HERR-Vaxx. Immunogenicity meaning, how have we affected your immune system to attack the particular kind of cancer. So we’ll have that from our first in-clinic product, called HERR-Vaxx. And then with the Mimotopes, we’ll announce the next candidate that we’ll likely take into the clinic. So we think that that’s going to be a pretty interesting target and we’d be very fortunate to announce that. And also we’ll have some other molecules or therapies that we’ll be looking at, including the Arginine Modulators. And we like the idea of being innovative andtransformative in this space. So we might have other targets that we’re also looking at.
Jessica Amir: Leslie Chong, thanks so much for the update and good luck with the programs.
Leslie Chong: Thank you so much for having me.