Biotech Strategy Blog

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

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After looking at one important poster yesterday on multiple myeloma, it’s time to explore other equally interesting targets in other tumour types.

Some years reflect the inertia that hit oncology R&D with a lot of old data rehashed or they can be flooded with many me-too compounds.  Not this year, there’s a lot to talk about and review… so much so that we may well have enough for three rounds of Gems from the Poster Halls, time permitting as ASCO is fast approaching!

Without much further ado, for round 1 we have explored eight posters spanning four companies with a variety of different targets including chemotherapy, targeted therapies and immunotherapies.  I will say though, that the lines are being blurred as all of these modalities can impact the immune system, sometimes in unexpected ways.

What’s in store for today?  A focus on biotech companies doing intriguing cancer research.

Companies mentioned: Infinity, Innate, Incyte, Agenus

Jounce Poster AACR 2016

The AACR Poster Halls get packed quickly!

It’s time to change direction and take a look at some of the Gems from the Poster Halls at the recent American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting.

One particular abstract that looked interesting related to the Aduro compound, BION–1301, which is a monoclonal antibody targeting the B cell Maturation Antigen and its ligand, A Proliferation Inducing Ligand (BCMA-APRIL) in multiple myeloma.

Increasingly, there has been a lot of clinical interest in the BCMA target, but what about APRIL?

We spoke to one of the scientists involved in the research about this novel agent:

“It is very effective at abrogating the activity of APRIL and, in particular, in our models blocks the growth, survival, drug resistance, migration and adhesion of myeloma cells both in-vitro and in-vivo in our murine models. These models have been predictive for clinical activity of other novel targeted therapies including lenalidomide and bortezomib, and so we think targeting APRIL represents a very promising strategy.”

Sounds pretty good, right?

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New Orleans American Queen

New Orleans, American Queen

After yesterday’s enlightening conversation on novel ways to jumpstart the immune system including OX40, vaccines, and STING with a self-confessed radicalist aka cancer immunologist (Dr Bernard Fox), we now turn to a self-described optimist for an industry perspective on oncology R&D and Part 2 of our anti-OX40 mini-series:

  • What ideas and challenges need to be considered in order to develop a new agent against a novel target, alone or in combination with another unapproved agent?
  • We know that mouse models and biomarkers aren’t optimal yet, so how do those issues and other factors influence decision making and clinical trial design?
  • It’s not so easy as many think – there are way more unknowns than knowns – so how do companies go about tackling them?
  • What can we learn from the readouts?

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At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), one controversial area that arose was centred around targeting OX40, a stimulatory checkpoint. We’ve written extensively about anti-OX40 checkpoint agonists on the blog in the past.

Targeting OX40 is an area of interest to several companies looking to improve the effectiveness of checkpoint inhibitors. As a result, several companies have OX40 agonists in development, including AstraZeneca/MedImmune, Roche/Genentech, Pfizer, GSK and Incyte/Agenus, for example, making it a competitive target and interesting race to market.

Meanwhile, in their recent 1Q earnings call, Roche announced that they expect to present clinical data on their PD-L1/OX40 combination at the forthcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago from June 4th to 7th. This therefore makes it a timely moment to reflect on the data generated so far and what we can expect next month.

In New Orleans, we spoke to several researchers who are active in the OX40 field, since there were both mouse and human data presented at this year’s conference.

The interviews conducted were wide-ranging and informative, so in our latest mini-series we explore Part 1 today with Part 2 tomorrow.  They are relaxed fireside chats with different experts included in each to discuss their data (and other relevant topics) presented in New Orleans.

This way, you’ll be able to follow along and find out where the common areas are, as well as the differences in perspectives, and even where we could be headed in the near future.

This latest series on OX40 agonists raises many intriguing questions that we hope may be answered at ASCO and other clinical meetings going forward. We also discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with research into cancer immunotherapy combinations.

Dr Bernard Fox at #AACR16

Dr Bernard Fox at #AACR16

Intriguing preclinical data in mice models were presented by Dr David Messenheimer (Portland). We spoke with the senior author of that abstract, Dr Bernard Fox.

He is the Harder Family Chair for Cancer Research and Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular and Tumour Immunology at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute in Portland, Oregon, and a leading cancer immunotherapy expert. He’s also the CEO of UbiVac, a biotech spin-off from Chiles in 2005 to develop therapeutic vaccines for cancer and infectious diseases.

Subscribers can login to read more on where “the rubber is hitting the road” in cancer immunotherapy clinical research.

If you’re not already a subscriber, you can purchase access to AACR posts and also our immuno-oncology coverage by clicking on the blue icon below.

Driving St Charles StreetcarAfter exploring the science behind chemotherapy improving T cell trafficking into the tumour yesterday – which is one of the key rate limiting issues that need to be addressed with immunotherapies such as checkpoint blockade – some obvious follow-up questions comes to mind:

  1. Does the compelling data in mice translate to humans?
  2. Can chemotherapy turn a cold tumour into a hot one?
  3. Will patients have improved outcomes as a result – or not?

It’s easy to dismiss traditional therapies in favour of appealing new developments, but what happens when we combine them?  Do we get additive effects, synergies or a negative impact?

As part of our ongoing AACR coverage, we explored this conundrum in the context of new data readouts, as well as the broader competitive landscape.

What we found was really interesting!

BMS, Merck and Genentech/Roche all have trials ongoing in the metastatic colorectal cancer space, with very different approaches being taken.  Does it matter?  Which one’s driving the bus?  We summarise these trials and offer some strategic insights on this niche.

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One of the unintended consequences of the rise of cancer immunotherapy has been the fall in interest from patients who might be candidates for entry into clinical trials for other therapies, such as chemotherapy and targeted agents, for example.

St Charles Streetcar New OrleansA number of industry friends have uniformally expressed concern over how difficult it has been enroll such trials and bemoaned the broader – and often not anticipated – effect to the extent that some trials have even been terminated.

This situation often occurs, not because of lack of efficacy or severe side effects, but simply a lack of enthusiasm and low accrual rates. Quite a few patients consider chemo to be nothing short of ‘poison’ and don’t want anything to do with it as a result, unless it can be avoided.

Here’s my advice to those in this situation – stop moaning, start re-thinking, and re-positioning your agent in a different light to the investigators who enroll these studies. If they lack heart, in a highly competitive world, you have to stand out and thus, everything flows from the basic rationale of what you’re trying to accomplish.

What exactly do we mean by that?

Yesterday, we discussed one of the rate limiting steps in the cancer immunity cycle – getting more T cells into the tumours so that that subsequent immunotherapy can be even more effective.

One way to do that?

Chemotherapy!

At AACR recently, we came across some intriguing ideas and approaches that are being discussed and explored, which may open many people’s eyes and minds. It rapidly became clear during discussions with several experts that all is not what it seems, and smart companies are already taking advantage of the new science that is emerging as well as a deeper understanding of the underlying biology of how the immune system behaves in cancer patients.

Here, we offer insights from our latest interview with a thought leader in the field for his perspective on how we can improve response rates and outcomes with cancer immunotherapy.

Fair warning: I must confess that it opened my own mind to fresh ideas and different approaches in an unexpected way – you may experience the same sentiments.

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UNO SignIn our post AACR analysis, I noticed some consistent observations across multiple talks and informal discussions with thought leaders.

Some of these ideas are pretty important and help us see the big picture for the near and medium term future in the cancer immunotherapy space.

The “Claws” sign we saw at the University of New Orleans sums things up!

Without much ado, it seems a good point to capture and summarise these ideas so that readers can compare notes and debate their thoughts too.

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It’s the end of April and just in time for two important things here on BSB…

Dan Chen and Ira Mellman on Novel Targets PodcastA) Season 2 of our Novel Targets podcast has now kicked off!

The first show (sponsored by Genentech) explores the cancer immunity cycle (CIC), how it can help see the bigger picture and how this framework can be used to help figure out what areas are missing when patients don’t respond to immunotherapy.

There are also predictions about what we will see coming up in the next year – will the crystal ball be accurate – or not?

Crank up the Sonos, grab a coffee, pen and paper – you’ll find the latest podcast show here (Link), which is open access for anyone who wants to listen.

B) Reader Q&A Mailbag: we tackle your latest tough questions that are top of mind and offer insights on the hot topics people want to know about.

We have a broad range of topics to cover today including:

  • The battle for PD-1 sales
  • What are the IO bottlenecks where we can expect to see new research focus
  • Sanofi-Medivation bid
  • AbbVie snapping up StemcentRx

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Today we take a short break from our AACR conference coverage and look at some creative new research that has its roots in oncology, i.e. antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), while being adapted and adopted for use in microbiology and infectious diseases.  Here at BSB, we have always been attracted to innovative science and technology and this latest project certainly fits that bill.

This is not such a stretch as many may think, after all, advanced cancer patients or those in an ICU  tend to be prone to infectious complications, which can, unfortunately, be lethal.

While this work is currently ongoing in the preclinical setting, it could be something we hear a lot more about in the near future as clinical development rolls out and there is a dramatic impact for patients.

Curious as to what all the fuss is about?

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This week certainly turned out to be a defining tale of two drugs with a chequered history…

Lion DancersFirst off, the FDA approved AbbVie/Genentech’s venetoclax, now known as Venclexta, in a subset of CLL patients with 17p deletions. These patients have a historically poor prognosis and the approval goes some way to addressing the high unmet medical need.

Secondly, another biotech company, Clovis Oncology, got slammed by ODAC with a 12-1 vote to wait for phase 3 data from the TIGER-3 trial for rociletinib to better determine the efficacy:safety benefit profile.

For a long while it seemed that AbbVie had nothing but toil and trouble over the tumour lysis syndrome (TLS) issues giving them some significant challenges to overcome, while Clovis were one of the new darlings of Wall Street.

In the final dash to the market, the tables were turned almost at the 11th hour and fortunes stunningly reversed.  Yet a mere eighteen months ago, few industry watchers would have predicted the difference in outcomes.

In our latest AACR Preview series, we take a look at Bcl2 inhibition and where some of the emerging opportunities might lie based on new preclinical research that is being presented here in New Orleans this weekend.  It makes for interesting reading.

While one tiger is licking its wounds, another is smacking it chops at what the future might hold for new combination approaches; how the tails have literally turned.

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