Pharmaceutical company Compugen Ltd. (Nasdaq: CGEN; TASE: CGEN), which uses computational modelling to discover drugs and develops them up to the clinical trials stage, has announced the expansion of its cooperation agreement with international company Bristol-Myers Squibb. The two companies are already in a trial testing Compugen's COM701 anti-cancer drug in combination with Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo immunotherapy drug. A new trial will now take place in combination with another Bristol-Myers Squibb drug in the hope of maximizing the treatment's effectiveness.
Compugen's share price rose 7.84% in Tel Aviv today, after after rising 7% on Nasdaq yesterday, pushing its market cap up to $632 million. Compugen's share price has climbed 160% this year, including 50% in the past six weeks.
Compugen president and CEO Dr. Anat Cohen-Dayag said, "The field of immunotherapy for cancer, in which the immune system is activated in order to combat cancer, and which is one of the hot areas in treatment today, now actually includes drugs mainly for two targets in the body: a receptor named PD1 and a receptor named CDL4." The first group contains Merck's Keytruda drug and Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo drug, for example, which are two of the most interesting and successful drugs in cancer treatment in recent decades. These drugs, however, are particularly effective in only 20-30% of patients.
Compugen's vision is to utilize its computation system to discover more targets in the body at which drugs can be aimed for activating the immune system. Compugen has discovered such a target, TIGIT, but it was learned that this had already been discovered by other companies using other methods. In any case, this was a proof of concept for Compugen's modelling technology, and Compugen set out to develop an antibody that would affect this target.
Compugen also discovered a third target for which no other company is currently developing a drug. This target is called PVRIG, and COM701 is designed to affect it.
Compugen is now conducting an independent trial of COM701 as a separate product, and obtained good initial results for it last November. The agreement signed by Compugen with Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2018 is for a joint trial of COM701 combined with Opdivo, the immunotherapy drug that affects the PD1 receptor and is already in the market, but is effective in only some patients. Combinations are now being sought for Opdivo to enhance and expand its activity.
Cohen-Dayag explains, "We have been saying for a long time that TIGIT and PVRIG are tracks that work together, and we later discovered that if we add the PD1 track, efficacy may be enhanced even further. We started developing a drug for the TIGIT track by ourselves, but Bristol-Myers Squibb has now agreed to give us its TIGIT drug, which is in the development process, for the purposes of the trial. We will now be able to conduct the triple trial earlier than we planned, and to prove our theory that combining the three tracks is the best approach."
Compugen is now planning to move forward on three trials simultaneously: the trial of COM701 by itself for a PVRIG track as its own independent product, a combination of COM701 and Opdivo, and a third track - Opdivo, COM701, and Bristol-Myers Squibb's drug for the TIGIT track. At the same time, just to be safe, Compugen is continuing development of its own drug for the TIGIT track.
"We will have three trials in 2020, after which we will stop everything and assess how and in which direction to move forward with each of the combinations," Cohen-Dayag said.
Compugen has another agreement, with Bayer, for a completely new immunotherapy track discovered by Compugen. Bayer is in a clinical trial of this product as a stand-alone drug, and also in combination with Keytruda.
Compugen reduced its staff early this year. "We realized that it wasn't worthwhile for us to keep two development sites: one in Israel and one in the US. We now have a team in the US responsible for clinical trials. The preclinical trials are outsourced and conducted here in Israel, and the R&D is conducted here," Cohen-Dayag explained.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 20, 2020
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