Antisoma shares have shot up almost 20% on the news that Phase II trials of the UK biotechnology firm’s experimental cancer drug have posted positive survival data.

The company said that its single-arm Phase II trial of ASA404 in non-small cell lung cancer has produced positive final results and the survival data, which will be presented on September 5 at the World Lung Cancer Conference in Seoul, Korea, support the findings from an earlier, randomised study in which the addition of ASA404, formerly AS1404, to standard chemotherapy “produced one of the largest increases in median survival ever reported in lung cancer”.

This is great news for Antisoma given that ASA404 has had a bit of a tricky time in proving its effectiveness in other cancers. Last month the drug failed to meet its primary endpoint in a mid-stage clinical trial for ovarian cancer, causing a slump in the firm’s share price, and although studies in prostate cancer are ongoing, NSCLC is seen as the main near-term opportunity for ASA404.

The treatment was the subject of a major deal signed with Novartis in April - potentially worth up to $890 million - under which the Swiss drug giant gained global rights to the compound and the Basel-based firm plans to start enrollment of patients into a Phase III trial early in 2008. If approved, ASA404, which was originally licensed by Antisoma from Cancer Research Ventures in August 2001, would be the first of a new generation of anticancer drugs designed to starve tumour cells of blood.