Biotech Strategy Blog

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

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We have been following the results of the checkpoint inhibitors for several years now, first with ipilimumab (Yervoy) and lately with anti-PD1 and PD-L1 inhibitors such as nivolumab, pembrolizumab and MPDL3280A. Irrespective of the antibody used, the best results we’ve seen have in melanoma, lung and bladder, but some tumour types such as colon and prostate cancers have barely been responsive at all.

Why is that?

Can we find ways to make non-responsive solid tumours responsive to immune therapies, and if so, what strategies could we employ to enable improved responses and outcomes?

At the ASCO Genitourinary (GU) meeting in Orlando this weekend there were some interesting hints of what might be possible in the not too distant future.

To learn more about this phenomenon, we conducted an interview with a leading cancer immunologist to find out what they are doing to make a difference in the GU space.

Interested?  Check out the interview by clicking on the link in the box below.

It’s now time to turn our attention to genitourinary oncology and, in particular, prostate, renal and urothelial bladder cancers. This week brings this ASCO GU meeting (#GU15), which is being held in Orlando this year and began this morning.

There are quite a few interesting topics being covered here, particularly in the poster sessions over the next three days. Hopefully, 2015 will also bring more good news in this space as 2014 was a rather dismal one on several fronts!

We decided to highlight some of the most interesting abstracts on castrate resistant prostate cancer and urothelial bladder cancer in our latest conference preview.

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After the intensity of gastrointestinal cancer, we now turn our attention to genitourinary (GU) cancers with the upcoming ASCO GU meeting later this week in Orlando.

Two of the big topics here will be prostate and renal cell (RCC) cancers.

Unfortunately, the long awaited data in adjuvant RCC demonstrated that early treatment with sorafenib or sunitinib did not improve outcomes in locally advanced kidney cancer after resection. According to the ASCO press release, the trial conducted by Dr Haas and colleagues at U Penn discovered that:

“The average period to disease recurrence was similar between those who received sorafenib or sunitinib after surgery (5.6 years) and those treated with placebo (5.7 years).”

We will therefore turn our attention to castration resistant prostate cancer (CRPC).

One of the recent and ongoing controversies is splice variants, especially AR-V7, which is thought by some research groups to confer resistance to the hormonal therapies, enzalutamide and abiraterone. The big question though, is does it, and how useful is an assay in helping to determine appropriate therapy? Are there other factors at play?

We looked at the latest data and put the findings in context with what we know from other published research.

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Continuing our series on the ASCO GI meeting, today marks the end of the conference coverage with an interesting look at overcoming resistance to EGFR therapies such as Erbitux and Vectibix.

One of the hallmarks of EGFR monotherapy in colorectal cancer is stable disease with eventual relapse, but few dramatic responses. This suggests that other factors may play a role in driving oncogenic activity.

Dr Tejpar, Leuven

Dr Tejpar, Leuven

Recently, patient derived xenografts (PDX) have begun to play an increasingly important role in helping to understand the biology of the disease and facilitate improved trial design.

Earlier this week, we discussed the molecular characterisation of the disease based on the keynote talk by Dr Sabine Tejpar. Her group in Belgium as well as others in Italy and Spain have been very active in European translational work in this area to identify and map the pathways influencing EGFR therapy in GI cancers.

What can we learn from the latest findings in this space?

The answer may well surprise you.

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Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen a lot of new targeted agents approved in a variety of different tumour types. Of the big five cancers (breast, lung, melanoma, prostate, and colorectal) one clearly stands out as missing out on exciting new developments in the last 5 years.

In fact, we haven’t really seen anything startlingly new in the colorectal cancer (CRC) space since 2004, when the FDA approved cetuximab (Erbitux) and bevacizumab (Avastin) to much fanfare a few weeks apart at the beginning of that year. Sure, there have been other EGFR and VEGF inhibitors approved since, including panitumumab (Vectibix), z-aflibercept (Zaltrap) and regorafenib (Stivarga) in various lines of therapy, but you could argue that they’re all more of the same (type of inhibitors) and incremental in their improvements, rather truly game changing or disruptive.

Why is this? Why the discrepancy?

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After the recent raft of posts on immunotherapy, it’s time to turn our attention back to oncogenic addiction.  A couple of key topics have dominated colorectal cancer over the years, namely what causes EGFR resistance and why don’t patients with the BRAF V600 mutation do as well with RAF monotherapy compared to melanoma patients?

In today’s post, we take a more detailed look at BRAF mutant colon cancer in terms of what we’ve learned so far and what the potential therapeutic solutions are, which could influence patient outcomes in a positive way.

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Photo: National Institutes of Health

After last week’s post on therapeutic tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), we received a bunch of questions from readers.

I don’t have time to answer them all in detail individually (sorry!), but it does provide an opportunity to review the evolving landscape and address some of them within the latest article.

It seems to be a good time to take a broader look at T cell manipulation, especially as it pertains to the application of TILs, chimeric antigen receptors (CAR), and T cell receptors (TCR).

We’ve certainly come along way since the historic lecture in 1991 pictured right (photo: National Institutes of Health), but there’s still some way to go before the full potential of cancer immunotherapy is reached.

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Over the last two years we’ve written extensively about chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies, checkpoint inhibitors and immune agonists (stimulants), yet these aren’t the only novel immunotherapies that are being developed to target cancer cells.

One area that hasn’t received a lot of attention is adoptive cell transfer (ACT) and therapeutic tumour infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs).

  • What exactly are these approaches and what progress has taken place so far?
  • Where is this field going in the near future?

Rosenberg ASH14 TIL PresentationTo answer these questions, we put together a primer based on the groundbreaking research of Dr Steven Rosenberg (NCI Surgical Branch), and his invited talk at the recent American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting.

As Rosenberg himself noted, what they’re doing is pretty daunting and yet, results so far have shown some impressive responses in some patients, especially those with metastatic melanoma, but other cancers have also responded well to this novel approach.

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A couple of years ago we had a lot of fun here on BSB following the progress of ibrutinib (Imbruvica), obinutuzumab (Gazyva), and idelalisib (Zydelig) in CLL and indolent NHL.  It seemed back then that the stunning trio were the hot topics for some time at ASCO and ASH meetings.  Exciting times!  All three target different entities (BTK, anti-CD20 and PI3K-delta) and made it past the tape to market, with Gazyva leading, Imbruvica a close second and Zydelig a slightly more distant third.  I was reminded of the race again over the last week or so as the 4Q earnings were announced, with Pharmacyclics reporting almost $500M for Imbruvica last year and estimating sales to hit $1B in 2015.  In contrast, Zydelig revenues for 2014 were $23M, reflective of their much later market entry in the US.

Still, that was a pretty impressive set of drugs all in development at the same time.

Two other agents we also reported on regularly were Infinity’s IPI-145, a PI3K delta-gamma inhibitor, and ABT-199/GDC-0199 (now known as venetoclax).  I haven’t heard much about the former of late, but after a few missteps, the next big question to consider is whether venetoclax is coming back strongly or destined for dog drug heaven?

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Clovis Oncology RociletinibThe potential of Clovis Oncology’s EGFR inhibitor rociletinib (formerly CO-1686) to treat T790M negative non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) was one of the interesting talking points of the recent JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco (JPM15).

At the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference (JPM15), Clovis presented updated data that shows some efficacy in those NSCLC patients who no longer respond to an EGFR inhibitor, but don’t have a T790M mutation (T790M negative).  Both AstraZeneca’s competitor compound, AZD9291, and rociletinib shown considerable activity in those EFGR resistant patients who develop a T790M mutation and it’s likely they will both soon be approved in this indication, based on the encouraging data seen to date.

However, what is surprising and could be a key differentiation factor for Clovis, is if there is sufficient efficacy in T790M negative patients for use of the drug in this indication.

In this post, we discuss the potential of rociletinib in NSCLC T790M negative patients, whether thought leaders might use the drug in this indication, and delve deeper into the science behind the efficacy seen.

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