Biotech Strategy Blog

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

About Pieter Droppert

Here are my most recent posts

Posts by Pieter Droppert

Dr Chris Heery NCIDr Chris Heery (@ChrisHeery) is a medical oncologist at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) who works in the Laboratory of Tumor Immunology and Biology (LTIB) with Jeffrey Schlom, James Gulley and other translational scientists.

The aim of the LTIB is to develop novel immunotherapies for cancer. One of the ways this is accomplished is through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), in essence a joint venture with the private sector.

At the recent Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) annual meeting, Dr Heery presented a poster on the results of a phase 1 clinical trial to evaluate the safety and tolerability of a therapeutic vaccine, MVA-BN Brachyury, targeting brachyury. See Bavarian Nordic Press Release Nov 3, 2015.

We previously heard at ASCO 2015 about the rational for targeting brachyury from Dr James Gulley (see post: Future of Prostate Cancer Immunotherapy).

It was a pleasure to talk with Dr Heery about his poster and what the potential of therapeutic cancer vaccines may be in the cancer immunotherapy arsenal.

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Dr Mario Sznol

Dr Mario Sznol at SITC 2015 Patient Forum

Novel Immunotherapies and Combinations” was the title of the talk by Dr Mario Sznol (Yale) at the recent Immunotherapy Patient Forum co-hosted by Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Organization (GRACE) and the Melanoma Research Alliance at the 2015 SITC annual meeting.

At the forum, Dr Sznol also led a breakout session, where he reviewed what is melanoma, the treatment of primary melanoma and management of advanced disease, as well as answering questions from the patients and patient advocates.

Often at medical meetings you hear the results of a clinical trial that is but one piece of the jigsaw, so it was interesting to hear a more comprehensive overview of the disease.

Dr Sznol kindly spoke with BSB about his vision for the future of cancer immunotherapies. This post includes excerpts from the interview along with additional commentary.

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Readers may recall at the 2014 annual meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) we wrote about the work of Dr Marcel van den Brink (MSKCC) on how the composition of bacteria in the gut can have an impact on graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), and survival post bone marrow transplant. See post: Can you reduce Graft versus Host Disease GvHD by regulating gut bacteria?

At SITC 2015, we heard from Dr Tom Gajewski (University of Chicago) who presented work from his laboratory, recently published in Science, that shows the gut microbiota can also impact the efficacy of checkpoint inhibitors.

Tom Gajewski SITC 2015

Dr Gajweski is one of the foremost cancer immunotherapy researchers in the United States. He previously spoke with BSB about his work on the STING pathway, and how the tumor microenvironment impacts checkpoint inhibitor efficacy. See post: Tom Gajewski takes the STING out of Cancer.

In his extremely busy schedule at SITC, Dr Gajewski found a few minutes to talk about his latest research and future plans.

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Some people may think that if you just give a whole boat load of engineered T cells, and in particular, those modified with a Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR), that responders are “cured.”

While some recipients of engineered T cells can have long-term, durable remissions, others may initially respond, only to subsequently relapse.

Resistance to CAR T cell therapy can and does occur.

In this post, we talked with a leading expert about the latest research on how resistance to cell therapy develops, and the potential strategies to overcome it.

CAR T cell therapy is exciting, but remains an emerging field with multiple ways in which the competitive landscape may be shaped moving forwards.

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That’s the $64K question we all want to know, and what’s more is gene editing necessary when it comes to creating an “off-the-shelf” T cell therapy, which instead of modifying a patient’s own T cells (autologous), uses cells from a healthy donor (allogeneic)?

We were really curious too, and sought out one of the world’s leading experts for their opinion on this very issue.

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SITC 2015 National Harbor Gaylord MDNational Harbor, MD.  Today was a busy day with the ASH abstracts coming out this morning, and some ground-breaking data that demanded an immediate #ASH15 preview post.

At the same time we’re here at SITC, and keeping an eye on the AACR-NCI-EORTC Molecular Targets meeting – it’s like three buses come at once!

So what happened at SITC today? In this post we’ve put a quick summary of some of the presentations we heard on Day 2 that stood out.  Sometimes what’s most important is what people don’t say.

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Dr Jerome GalonDr Jérôme Galon is a leading Immunologist and Research Director at INSERM in Paris.

At the recent European Cancer Congress in Vienna he gave an engaging presentation in the scientific symposium on Cellular Immunotherapy of Cancer.

Afterwards, Dr Galon (pictured right) kindly spoke to BSB about:

  • What is immunosurveillance?
  • How the type, location and density of immune cells present within tumors predicts clinical outcome.
  • The potential of the Immunoscore assay to classify cancers based on their immune profile
  • What the future may hold in terms of personalized cancer immunotherapy.

One only has look at the impressive list of companies for which Dr Galon is a consultant or scientific adviser to see how valued his work in the cancer immunotherapy field is; it was a privilege to talk with him. The excerpts of the in-depth interview he kindly gave make for a good weekend read!

Grab a coffee & bagel and enjoy!

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ECC 2015 Dr Sandra Demaria Radiation Immunotherapy Title SlideAt the recent European Cancer Congress in Vienna, one of the Immunotherapy in Cancer Scientific Symposia that caught my attention was on Combining Radiation and Immunotherapy.

When it comes to immuno-oncology, it’s a topic we’ve not heard that much about, although many trials in combination with radiation are planned or in progress.

In the symposium, Dr Sandra Demaria (Weill Cornell Medical College) gave a presentation entitled: “Molecular Basis for Radiotherapy in Synergy with Immunotherapy.”

What are the new concepts on how to combine radiation with immunotherapy?

Dr Demaria shared her thoughts with BSB; excerpts from the interview are included in the following post along with additional commentary.

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Dr Holbrook Kohrt StanfordHolbrook Kohrt MD PhD (pictured right) is a Stanford medical oncologist and clinical researcher who is leading the way in cancer immunotherapy combination strategies targeting CD137 (4-1BB).

He’s a speaker I greatly enjoy listening to at meetings. Earlier this year at The American Association of Immunologists (AAI) annual meeting (Immunology 2015) in New Orleans, he gave a noteworthy presentation on combination monoclonal antibody therapy.

The potential of a combination of an anti-CD137 monoclonal antibody such as urelumab plus an anti-CD20 such as rituximab, was one that he appeared to be particularly excited about.

Dr Kohrt kindly spoke with BSB and shared his thoughts on the potential of immune modulators, which instead of acting as inhibitors to “release the brake,” like checkpoint inhibitors, act as agonists to “step on the gas” and rev up the immune system. This is a concept that many Pharma companies are currently looking to explore for new drug development opportunities, for example:

Roche ESMO Media Briefing Immunotherapy Approach

Source: Roche Media Briefing at ESMO 2014 in Madrid

When it comes to combination strategies, the big unanswered questions are which ones will produce big gains in response rates and survival outcomes, and which ones will be duds?  

After all, much like targeted therapies, not all targets will be relevant in all tumour types – it will depend on the underlying immune system.

In New Orleans, Dr Kohrt talked about the potential advantages and concerns around combination strategies and why he’s particularly interested in CD137 as a novel target for immunotherapy.

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Oxford based Immunocore is an emerging UK biotechnology company that should be on your radar if you’re following companies such as Kite Pharmaceuticals and Juno Therapeutics. If it isn’t already you can expect to hear a lot more about them in the forthcoming year as they start clinical trials with the many leading global pharma companies who have already partnered with them.

Dr Namir Hassan, Immunocore

Immunocore is an immuno-oncology company with an innovative approach to targeting T Cell Receptors (TCR) using their proprietary ImmTAC (Immune mobilising monoclonal TCRs against cancer) technology platform.

Namir Hassan, D.Phil (pictured right) is Director of Translational Research and Head of Development at Immunocore. BSB met with him and Chief Business Officer, Eva-Lotta Allan at the company offices located in a science and business park near Oxford.

Immunocore recently raised $320M in Europe’s largest private life sciences funding. (Link to Press Release)

Earlier this year preliminary clinical data for IMCgp100 their first-in-class novel immunotherapy was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Philadelphia by Mark Middleton, Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine at the University of Oxford.

In the interview, excerpts of which you can read below, Dr Hassan explained why their exciting and innovative approach that targets the T Cell Receptor is different from other companies in the field, what they have learned from the preliminary clinical data, and the potential immTACs may offer in combination with other cancer immunotherapies.

If you’re not a cancer immunologist, this type of science is complex, so the aim of the interview was to put into context the data already in the public domain and gain some insights into the excitement behind ImmTACs and what immunocore are doing. If you don’t understand the potential of TCRs and ImmTACs as immunotherapies, this post is for you!

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