GlaxoSmithKline's R&D failures rack up, notching an Immutep-partnered trial cull

(GSK via Flickr)

It’s not been a great week for GlaxoSmithKline’s partnered R&D projects; after being forced to cull a major lung cancer trial with Merck KGaA, it’s now a case of déjà vu as it axes yet another experimental drug study.

This time it’s with Immutep, an Australian biotech it has long roots with, as the two have an R&D pact stretching all the way back to late 2010. That deal centered on IMP731, which works by depleting LAG-3 positive cells.

At the time, the work was very early stage, and that was reflected in the financials: Immutep nabbed an upfront payment with milestones of up to £64 million ($100 million) as well as royalties if it got approved.

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A decade down the line, however, and things have not worked out well. GSK is now culling a phase 2 of the anti-LAG3 cell depleting monoclonal antibody, which is now known as GSK2831781 (and is a tweak of Immutep’s original IMP731 antibody), specifically in patients with active ulcerative colitis (UC).

“The trial was stopped by GSK based on the assessment of clinical data as part of a planned interim analysis conducted in consultation with the trial’s Data Review Committee,” the pair said in a statement.

This will be a blow for the development, given the mega bucks seen in marketed drugs for UC such as AbbVie’s major blockbuster Humira and other similar autoimmune and GI drugs that rack up the indications across a broad range of similar conditions.

This is not curtains for the whole program, and the GSK license for the drug “remains in place,” Immutep said, although the British Big Pharma is now assessing “next steps” for the program. It does have other disease targets outside of UC, including psoriasis.

Immutep’s shares on the Nasdaq were down 6% premarket on the news.