Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology & Hematology

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Biomarkers are a hotly debated topic at the moment within the cancer immunotherapy field.

At the recent Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer annual meeting (SITC 2015), there was even a debate with industry representatives arguing the “pros” and “cons.” Daniel Chen, MD PhD from Genentech (pictured right) argued “pro” and Steven Averbuch MD (pictured left) from BMS argued “con.”

SITC 2015 Biomarker Debate

The challenging question for anyone at the moment is if your Parent, Spouse or Best Friend were PD-L1 negative, would you still want them to receive a PD-1/PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor (presuming it was indicated for the disease) and have a chance of a response, even if their PD-L1 negativity would suggest only a slim chance of responding?

AT SITC 2015 we spoke with an industry expert who offered insights into a leading company’s biomarker strategy and what the future may look like in 5-7 years time.

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ASH 2014 cHL PembroOne of the hotly debated topics at the 2014 American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting was the arrival of checkpoint data in classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cHL), with initial data presented on 20-30 patients with relapsed or refractory cHL who received either nivolumab (BMS) or pembrolizumab (Merck) in open label, single agent trials.

Updated phase I data is expected to be presented at the 2015 ASH annual meeting in Orlando (Dec 5-8) (Twitter #ASH15)

At the recent ESMO symposium on Immuno-Oncology in Lausanne (Twitter #Immuno15) – great hashtag, there was an excellent overview of checkpoint blockade in lymphomas. What did this tell us about progress in this disease and where are things going?


The ESMO IO meeting set the scene for what we can expect at ASH this year?

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Oncology R&D is tough and there are many more failures than successes, despite the FDA approving more than they’ve rejected over the last two years. That’s quite unusual in my experience.

Dr Mario SznolAs Dr Mario Sznol (Yale) told us at SITC recently, sometimes these things are sometimes more whimsical. He was referring to different types of modalities that can be used in conjunction with cancer immunotherapies, but the sentiment is also highly relevant to the FLT3 AML space.

The critical questions we need to think here about are:

  1. What’s different about the various approaches?
  2. What can we learn from the FLT3 experiences to date that give us clues about the changing landscape in AML?

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It’s that time of the month where the BSB readers get their chance to put us on the hot spot!

SITC 2015 Land GrabHere, we take a look at reader questions that have been submitted and argue the toss – is there evidence preclinically or clinically that is useful or instructive?

We can’t promise to answer every question, sometimes there simply isn’t any data to help either way.

This week, the topic is CAR T cell therapies, a subject that seems to be very high on many people’s minds and many of you had similar questions, so here goes…  

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ASH 2014 San FranciscoThe 2015 annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) (Twitter #ASH15) in Orlando has a bumper crop of interesting data.

ASH is one of the my favourite meetings on our conference calendar. I’ve been attending for many years, starting with when I was a commercial account manager for Hematology, Immunology, Transplantation and Oncology in the UK, then at Novartis in the US, when I was part of the team that brought Gleevec to market.

Hematologists make for an interesting group of people to talk to!  They are very focused on the science behind a disease and how translational research can move the needle forward and generate better outcomes for their patients.

As part of our continuing preview of #ASH15, I’ve taken a quick look at the late-breaking abstracts that were released today. We will have more in-depth coverage after we’ve heard the data presented in the 7.30-9.30 am session on Tuesday December 8.

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If you’re not already a subscriber, but what to know “What’s hot at ASH15?” then you should purchase access.  Additional ASH previews are already planned.  By the time you’ve read them, you should “hit the ground running” in Orlando.

As Warren Buffett famously said, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” I couldnt agree more. We have subscribers who just purchase our ASH coverage every year, so do check it out if you haven’t done so already.

It’s Friday 13th, a day often feared by the superstitious, but for AstraZeneca it certainly portended good news with the FDA approval of AZD9291 or osimertinib (now Tagrisso) in EGFR T790M mutation-positive lung cancer – three months ahead of the PDUFA date. Jonathan Rockoff, a reporter at the WSJ, was the first to announce it in my Twitter stream:

Tagrisso 80mg

Tagrisso 80 mg. Picture credit: AstraZeneca

The FDA announcement for Tagrisso (generic name is osimertinib) can also be found here and the actual label here.

Note that it is now available under accelerated approval, based on tumor response rate and duration of response. This means that phase III confirmatory trials, including survival data will be needed for full approval.

As part of our ongoing series on the T790M niche, this is also a timely opportunity to catch up with the latest data that was presented earlier this month at the AACR-NCI-EORTC Cancer Therapeutics and Molecular Targets meeting in Boston.

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A burning question in the field of cancer immunotherapy is how long do you have to give a checkpoint inhibitor for?

At the recent Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) annual meeting, new data presented by one of the leaders in the field, offered insight (from an unexpected direction) into what the answer to this question may be.

It has huge implications for cancer immunotherapy treatment and the many companies involved in this space.

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SITC Day 4 Highlights

It’s been an interesting annual meeting at the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) so far and not without controversy either, as the reaction to Incyte’s IDO1 data demonstrated on Friday when combined with Merck’s pembrolizumab (sse post).

Today, we heard the results from another early trial with a novel immune target. This time it was the turn of Macrogenics, a local biotech based up the road in Rockville, Maryland.

They are developing a number of monoclonal antibodies to a variety of targets, including B7-H3. After the controversial late breaker session on Friday, how did their drug fare in the hotseat here in National Harbor this morning?

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SITC Day 3 Highlights

There were a couple of late breakers presented in the oral session yesterday that are worth discussing for several reasons, not least the controversy surrounding the stock action afterwards.

Dr Tara Gangadhar (U Penn) presented epacadostat, Incyte’s IDO1 inhibitor, in combination with pembrolizumab, Merck’s anti-PD1 inhibitor in a phase 1/2 trial with selected solid tumours.

Will combining these agents lead to better responses and outcomes than with pembrolizumab alone?

Dr Naiyer Rizvi (Moffitt) presented the combination data of AstraZeneca’s anti-PDL1 (durvalumab) plus anti-CTLA4 (tremelimumab) in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Neither of these agents have yet been approved in any indication, so the only relative comparators we have here are nivolumab and pembrolizumab as single agents in NSCLC and ipilimumab plus nivolumab in metastatic melanoma. There are no data approved for the BMS combo in lung cancer.

This review looks at both trials, in terms of the controversial data presented, and also in a broader context of the ever-changing landscape.

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Downtown Disney Orlando

Downtown Disney, Orlando

It’s an exciting week for cancer drug development with the AACR-NCI-EORTC molecular targets meeting in Boston (Twitter: #Targets15) and the 2015 annual meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) at National Harbor, MD (Twitter: #SITC2015)

However, today’s news is the much anticipated release of the abstracts (apart from the late breakers and press program) for the 2015 American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting (Twitter: #ASH15) that takes place in Orlando from December 5-8th. We’ll at the meeting for the blog.

There is so much great science at ASH, it’s really hard to do it justice – we’ve been known to spend most of the meeting in the poster halls…and until you see the data it’s impossible to provide detailed commentary or analysis.

However, there’s so much interest in the abstracts that for the benefit of our subs, I’ve highlighted several that caught my attention in what is a fast, real-time, top-line review while at SITC this morning.

This initial review covers two hot topics in cancer immunotherapy – CAR T cells and Checkpoint inhibitors.

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