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

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At the recent scientific meeting to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy (#CIML40), Professor Ton Schumacher from the Netherlands Cancer Institute gave an informative presentation on “T cell recognition and tumor resistance in human cancer.”

Professor Ton Schumacher at CIML40

Picture Credit: ATGC Partners

Schumacher started his talk at CIML by saying, “I guess by now I should consider myself a cancer immunologist…”

Cancer immunologist ‘wannabes’ should take note of the level of expertise required to be considered one!

Neon Therapeutics LogoHe is one of the co-founders of Neon Therapeutics and a leading researcher into antigen-specific T cell immunity.

Several companies are seeking to develop personalized cancer vaccines against patient-specific neoantigens.

We previously wrote about the approach Neon Therapeutics is following based on expert interviews with the interim CEO Cary Pfeffer and scientific co-founder Dr Cathy Wu.

BioNTech LogoYesterday the field heated up when it was announced that German biotech BioNTech AG had entered a strategic collaboration with Genentech to develop individualized mRNA cancer therapies (Sept 20, 2016 press release).

This post continues the BSB mini-series on targeting neoantigens that we started last month. Do check out previous posts if you missed them:

After his #CIML40 presentation, Prof Schumacher kindly spoke to BSB.

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mimabs_logoOne of the partners of the Marseille Immunopôle cluster is an immuno-technology center focused on translational research called MI-mAbs (“MI” for Marseille Immunopole, and “mAbs” for monoclonal antibodies).

It aims to bridge the gap between industry and academia by accelerating the development of novel monoclonal antibodies for new targets.

MI-mAbs is based in the Parc Scientifique et Technologie de Luminy.

It’s a stone’s throw from the Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy (CIML), which this year celebrated its 40th anniversary (1976-2016).

Panoramic view from CIML

Panoramic view from CIML

Luminy is also the home to several companies focused on immuno-oncology, including Innate Pharma and HalioDx. Marseille has the ambition to become a world leader in the development of immune-based therapies

MI-mAbs is funded by a €19M award from the French Government, as part of their Investissments d’avenir/Investments for the Future program.

The Scientific Director of MI-mAbs is Professor François Romagné. He’s a co-founder of Innate Pharma and for 14 years was the company’s Chief Scientific Officer (CSO). He’s one of the inventors of lirilumab and monalizumab, both of which are in phase 2 clinical trials.

mi-mabs-pr-francois-romagne

Professor Romagné kindly spoke to BSB about MI-mAbs and how it plans to accelerate innovation and develop new drug candidates for the treatment of cancer or inflammatory disease.

For our French speaking audience, here is a brief excerpt from the interview with Pr. Romagné, where he introduces himself and MI-mAbs.

It’s an incredible time for immunologists like Prof Romagné, where the clinical results we are seeing with new cancer immunotherapies have validated a lifetime of work.

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While in Marseille for the scientific meeting to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy (CIML), I had the pleasure to interview Hervé Brailly PhD, the CEO of Innate Pharma, a leading biotech company in the Marseille Immunopôle.

dr-herve-brailly-innate-pharma-ceo

Innate Pharma (@InnatePharma) was founded in 1999 by six immunologists: Hervé Brailly, Eric Vivier, Marc Bonneville, Alessandro Moretta, Jean-Jacques Fournié and Francois Romagné.

Yesterday’s blog post on “Why Target the Innate Immune System? An interview with Eric Vivier” sets the scene for today’s post.

Innate Pharma, as the name suggests, has pioneered targeting the innate immune system. The company has leveraged the research undertaken at CIML by Professor Vivier and others in the field of innate immunity.

Innate is leading the way in immuno-oncology by targeting checkpoint receptors on natural killer (NK) cells. In 2011 Innate signed a licensing deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb for the development and potential commercialization of lirilumab.

In a recent financial report (link to Sept 8 press release) the company announced that several clinical trials would read-out in the forthcoming months.

Without disclosing any material non-public information, Dr Brailly kindly spoke with BSB and talked about his vision for Innate, what data readouts we are expecting, and the inflexion point the company is now at.

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Eric Vivier, DVM PhD (@EricVivier1) is a leading French immunologist whose research has focused on understanding the innate immune system, and in particular, the role natural killer (NK) cells and innate lymphoid cells (ILC) play.

prof-eric-vivier

He is Director of the Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy (CIML) and a Professor of Immunology at Aix-Marseille University.

In addition to his academic work, he also co-founded the biotech company Innate Pharma back in 1999. Through the company, he is actively involved in the translation of basic research into new cancer immunotherapy treatments.

New clinical data is eagerly expected for one of these, a first-in-class monoclonal antibody against KIR (lirilumab). It is in phase 2 clinical trials with Innate Pharma and Bristol Myers Squibb.

At the recent scientific meeting to celebrate 40 years of CIML (#CIML40), Professor Vivier kindly spoke to BSB about his research into innate immunity and the Marseille Immunopôle, for which he is also a co-founder.

It is an immunology cluster that brings together academic/clinical research with innovative biotech companies looking to bring new drugs and diagnostics to market.

This is the second post in our mini-series from the Marseille Immunopôle and CIML40. It also sets the scene for forthcoming posts on targeting the innate immune system, something you can expect to hear a lot more about in cancer immunotherapy.

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Marseille – When it comes to biotech clusters for immunotherapy, Marseille, the second city of France, has to be right up there along with Boston, San Francisco in the United States and the “Golden Triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge and London in the UK.

ciml40I’m here in Marseille thanks to an invitation from Professor Eric Vivier to attend the 2-day scientific conference that the Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy (CIML) have organized as part of their fortieth anniversary celebrations (1976-2016). It starts today (Twitter #CIML40).

Surrounding CIML in the picturesque national park (Parc National des Calanques), just outside the city, are innovative biotech companies focused on immunology and cancer immunotherapy. The combination of companies, research institutes and academic hospitals in the region has created the Marseille Immunopôle (@Immunopole). The area should already be on your radar if you are following the field.

haliodx

Yesterday, I visited HalioDx (@HalioDx), a start-up company a stone’s throw from CIML. It was founded in 2015 to commercialize Immunoscore, a novel biomarker in colon cancer that can be used to stage patients based on their immune response.

Vincent Fert CEO HalioDx

Vincent Fert, CEO of HalioDx

We’ve been following the work of Dr Jérôme Galon on the blog for some time (see posts from European Cancer Congress 2015 and ASCO 2016), so it was a pleasure to talk to Vincent Fert, CEO (pictured right) and co-founder of HalioDx, about his plans to commercialize Immunoscore in Europe and the United States.

If you want to know more about the science behind Immunoscore, do listen to the recent Novel Targets Podcast (@TargetsPodcast) interview with Dr Galon, where he talks about the data he presented at ASCO 2016 (link to Episode 13: Immunotherapy or Bust).

The field of cancer immunotherapy is making rapid progress. It is already reaching the point where — in order to optimize the chance of a durable response — doctors need to know what a patient’s underlying immune response to cancer is, in order to direct therapy.

Vincent Fert and HalioDx are leading the way with the commercialization of a new diagnostic approach for colon cancer based on a patient’s immune profile. He kindly spoke with BSB about his plans for the company and making Immunoscore available in the US and Europe.

haliodx-marseille-luminy

This is the first post in a mini-series from the Marseille Immunopôle.

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Prof Fran Balkwill Barts Cancer InstituteWhen it comes to cancer immunotherapy drug development, one of the challenges is that we can’t accurately predict from preclinical mouse models what will happen in people. The result is a rush into the clinic to test in human subjects.

We do need better preclinical models, which is why it was interesting to hear recently on an episode of Health Check (BBC World Service) about a 3D tumour model that is being developed at Barts Cancer Institute.

Professor Fran Balkwill (pictured), who leads the Centre for Cancer and Inflammation, kindly spoke to BSB about the work she and colleagues are doing to model the tumour microenvironment (TME) in high-grade serous ovarian cancer.

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Like the Battle of Britain, the cancer immunotherapy landscape is a dynamic one where tactical decisions can make the difference between “winning” and “losing.”

As Bristol Myers recently found out in first-line NSCLC, if you choose the wrong trial design or adopt an overly-aggressive strategy, you can end up losing badly (see post: Detailed thoughts on BMS CheckMate 026 1L trial in NSCLC)

A recent trip to the operations bunker at former RAF Uxbridge, from where the fighters of 11 Group were directed, shows how close we came to losing the Battle of Britain.  Had the German Luftwaffe continued to target RAF airfields instead of diverting their efforts on London, the outcome of the war is likely to have been quite different.

History provides a valuable lesson that strategy and tactics can and do matter; in R&D the targets you choose and how effectively you execute on a plan can make a big difference to outcome.

Battle of Britain Bunker Plot

Pictured: the RAF 11 Group Operations plot as it looked on September 15, 1940.

In Part 2 of the BSB interview with PsiOxus Therapeutics CEO Dr John Beadle, we discuss corporate strategy, and some of the challenges faced by an emerging Biotech company, many of which are likely to be shared by other small companies in the field.

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To be successful as a cancer immunotherapy company, you not only have to be science driven (that’s a given) and offer an approach that could make a difference, you also need a vision and the ability to execute ahead of competitors in a fast moving and competitive landscape.

Dr John Beadle

Dr John Beadle

We’re continuing our series on emerging cancer immunotherapy companies with an in-depth look at PsiOxus, and the vision of CEO Dr John Beadle (pictured right) for it to be a world-leading immuno-oncolytic virus company.

PsiOxus is based just outside of Oxford – it’s part of the so-called “golden triangle,” the area between London, Oxford and Cambridge in the South of England that is a driver of UK science and innovation.

The company is located in a nondescript business park 45 minutes by train from Paddington to Didcot Parkway, followed by a taxi or bus ride. You have to want to make the trip from London!

Dr Beadle kindly spoke to BSB about the competitive advantage the PsiOxus oncolytic virus platform offers, their path-to-market strategy and how he sees the company developing in the future.

With clinical data due in 2017, PsiOxus is a cancer immunotherapy company to watch out for.

Part 1 of the interview focuses on the scientific platform and cancer new products in development that are driving the company forward.

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Lung cancer, along with metastatic melanoma, has been very much to the forefront of attention in cancer immunotherapies with both nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) garnering approval as monotherapy from the FDA in second line treatment of NSCLC. A third molecule, atezolizumab (Tecentriq) has also been submitted to the authorities for this indication and a decision is expected soon.

Morgan Grafitti Wall

Street art in the Chicago West Loop

While no one is in any doubt that the response rates with monotherapy are low (in the 20% range) and the majority of people do not respond, the important thing so far is that when they do, they appear to be very durable responses. People are living longer, much longer than the 2–3 months of incremental improvement we are used to seeing with chemotherapy or targeted therapies.

The race is now on to see how we can improve things for the 80% of people with lung cancer who don’t respond to single agent therapy:

  • What can we do to help them?
  • Which combinations look more encouraging?
  • Should we treat beyond progression?

To answer these questions, we interviewed Dr Stephen Liu and discussed his views on some of the cancer immunotherapy combination studies presented at ASCO last week.

Dr Stephen Liu

Dr Stephen Liu at ASCO 2016

Dr Liu is a lung cancer expert at the Lombardi Cancer Centre at Georgetown University, and is actively involved in numerous clinical trials, particularly in Developmental Therapeutics.

Georgetown’s founding principle is Cura Personalis, which translates as care of the whole person. It “suggests individualized attention to the needs of others, distinct respect for unique circumstances and concerns, and an appropriate appreciation for singular gifts and insights.”

Dr Liu embodies this ideal, advocating for his patients for access to the best research advances, including genomics and clinical trials of promising agents.  At ASCO, he kindly highlighted some of the important findings from Chicago and offered context on why they matter to the field.

He told us one combination was “potentially transformative” and could be “practice changing” in lung cancer with more data.

Intrigued? To find out what these important trials are and which ones to watch out for, subscribers can log-in to read the article or you can sign-up by clicking on the Blue Box below.

Chicago ArchitectureChicago – the ASCO 2016 annual meeting is in full swing. This is the third and last day of our rolling blog where we’re providing updates with top-line commentary throughout the data.

If interested, you can also check out the many updates from Day 1 and Day 2.

There’s a lot happening at ASCO today, including a presentation by Vice President Joe Biden later this morning. Allow extra time for security checks if you plan to listen to him in person, and I expect there’ll be delays to the hotel shuttle buses around Chicago as roads are closed to accommodate the VP’s motorcade.

Many people chose not to come to ASCO this year – but it’s turned out to be a great meeting. We’ve heard a lot of new data which are likely to have an impact on future clinical trial strategy, as companies look to bring new products to market in what is a competitive field, particularly in cancer immunotherapy. There are how many PD-1 checkpoints in development now?

A word of warning to the wise – not all these IO molecules are going to win – some are going to fail, some will be useful tools in various subsets and some are going to be new home runs.

If you’d like to read our coverage of Monday at ASCO 2016, you can login if already a subscriber, or you can purchase access below by clicking on the Blue Box below.

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