Merus (MRUS) Surges 36% on Head & Neck Cancer Antibody Data

Shares of Merus N.V. MRUS rose 36.2% on Friday after management announced the publication of an abstract for the 2024 ASCO meeting on a mid-stage study evaluating the combination of its investigational antibody, petosemtamab and Merck’s blockbuster oncology drug Keytruda.

This study evaluated the petosemtamab/Keytruda combination as a first-line treatment for patients with recurrent/metastatic (r/m) head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

As of the Nov 6, 2023 cut-off date, 26 patients had been treated, with 24 continuing with the therapy. With only 10 patients evaluable for response at the cut-off point, Merus reported a 60% response rate — including one confirmed response, two confirmed partial responses and three unconfirmed partial responses.

Though treatment-emergent adverse events were reported in all patients (mostly grade 1 or 2 in severity), the combination therapy was well-tolerated by study participants. No significant overlapping toxicities were observed. While infusion-related reactions were reported in nearly 27% of patients, all occurred during the first infusion and were resolved.

Management intends to hold a conference call on May 28 to discuss a more mature dataset from the study at a later cut-off date ‘where the response rate further improved.’ It also intends to make a full presentation at the 2024 ASCO Annual Meeting on Jun 3.

Investors were likely impressed with the response rate, especially the one confirmed response, which was the likely reason for the soaring share price. In its press release, MRUS stated that these responses have since been confirmed, establishing this 60% as a confirmed response rate. Wall Street analysts were also impressed with the results, as William Blair was ‘highly encouraged’ with the data, while H.C. Wainwright called the results ‘impressive.’

Year to date, Merus’ stock has skyrocketed 118.2% against the industry’s 5.7% fall.

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With no marketed products in its portfolio, Merus is highly dependent on its pipeline for growth. Earlier this month, the FDA accepted the company’s regulatory filing seeking approval for zenocutuzumab to treat two NRG1 fusion-positive cancers — non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and pancreatic cancer (PDAC). If approved, zenocutuzumab will be the first and only targeted therapy for patients with NRG1+ NSCLC and PDAC indications.

Merus N.V. Price

 

Merus N.V. Price

Merus N.V. price | Merus N.V. Quote

 

Zacks Rank & Key Picks

Merus currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Buy). Some better-ranked stocks in the overall healthcare sector include Arcutis Biotherapeutics ARQT, Marinus Pharmaceuticals MRNS and Heron Therapeutics HRTX, each carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) at present. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

In the past 60 days, estimates for Arcutis Biotherapeutics’ 2024 loss per share have narrowed from $2.49 to $1.60. During the same period, the loss estimates per share for 2025 have improved from $1.77 to $1.14. Year to date, shares of Arcutis have surged 183.6%.

Earnings of Arcutis Biotherapeutics beat estimates in three of the last four quarters while missing the mark on one occasion. Arcutis delivered a four-quarter average earnings surprise of 14.93%.

In the past 60 days, estimates for Marinus Pharmaceuticals’ 2024 loss per share have improved from $2.44 to $1.87. During the same period, loss estimates for 2025 have narrowed from $1.97 to 90 cents.

Earnings of Marinus Pharmaceuticals beat estimates in two of the last four quarters and met the mark on one occasion while missing the mark on another. Marinus delivered a four-quarter average earnings surprise of 3.27%.

In the past 60 days, estimates for Heron Therapeutics’ 2024 loss per sharehave improved from 22 cents to 10 cents. During the same period, estimates for 2025 have improved from a loss of 9 cents to earnings of 1 cent. Year to date, HRTX’s shares have appreciated 102.4%.

Earnings of Heron Therapeutics beat estimates in three of the last four quarters while missing the mark on one occasion. HRTX delivered a four-quarter average earnings surprise of 30.33%.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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