Biotech Strategy Blog

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

New York – at the CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR international cancer immunotherapy conference (Twitter #CICON16) that’s currently underway, one of the plenary oral presentations and posters that attracted my attention was for CPI-444, a small molecule inhibitor of the adenosine 2 A receptor (A2AR). It is in development by Corvus Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CRVS).

Corvus Pharmaceuticals Logo

Stephen Willingham, PhD a Senior Scientist at Corvus presented data yesterday on CPI-444, “A potent & selective inhibitor of the A2AR that induces antitumor responses alone and in combination with anti PD-L1 in preclinical and biomarker studies.”  

Corvus announced a collaboration with Genentech back in October 2015. A phase 1 trial with CPI-444 alone and in combination with Genentech’s anti-PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor atezolizumab (Tecentriq) is now underway.

Targeting the tumor microenvironment to lower the immunosuppressive adenosine and improve checkpoint point effectiveness could be a big win for both Corvus and Genentech if CPI-444 is able to significantly improve the response rates to atezolizumab.

Corvus Senior Scientist Stephen Willingham, PhD and Chief Business Officer Jason Coloma, PhD kindly spoke to BSB about what the data presented in New York means and the company’s clinical development strategy.

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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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There was a time when it seemed that all the good news emerging in cancer research was on breast cancer, that is clearly no longer true as other tumour types have seen some leaps and bounds with different modalities, including areas previously thought to be a graveyard for big Pharma, such as metastatic melanoma, for example.

new-dawn-houses-of-parliament

New Dawn at the Houses of Parliament

That said, after the excellent developments in hormone-sensitive disease and the identification of the HER2 oncogene, we now have CDK4/6 as a validated target in metastatic breast cancer.

Pfizer’s palbociclib (Ibrance) lead the way, with two approvals in previously untreated and relapsed ER+ HER2- advanced breast cancer. Two other companies in this field are Novartis with ribociclib and Lilly with abemaciclib. Data is being presented on all three therapies at ESMO this year.

In addition, there are some other abstracts of note that are well worth discussing.

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In our ECCO Preview series last year (note: ESMO and ECCO have alternated the EU major cancer conference in the Fall for years), we highlighted several promising novel agents in development including the following:

  • StemCentRx’s anti-DLL3 inhibitor: rovalpituzumab tesirine (ROVA-T)
  • Ignyta’s Pan Trk, ROS1 and ALK inhibitor: entrectinib
  • Pfizer’s anti-NOTCH3 inhibitor: PF–06650808
  • Pfizer’s PTK7 ADC in TNBC: PF–06647020

What happened to them all? Were they good selections or not?

Well, AbbVie acquired StemCentRx in a $10.2B deal, Ignyta are busy advertising their new clinical trial enrollment for entrectinib as a non-chemotherapy and non-placebo controlled study on social media, suggesting that compound’s clinical development is still very much alive, while both the Pfizer compounds are also still active, as far as I know.

None have yet been consigned to dog drug heaven, which is quite something considering the failure rate in oncology drug pipelines!

Indeed, last year the Pfizer PTK7 ADC data was focused on triple negative breast cancer, where there is a solid rationale. This time around, the same research group explore the latest activity in advanced solid tumours, including ovarian cancer, as mentioned in the earlier Preview (See: 9 key abstracts in Ovarian Cancer).

sallys-barSo it’s time to sit down and chew the fat on one of my favourite topics at conferences – Development Therapeutics.

Here we consider which other compounds – other than the Pfizer ADC – that are worthy of highlighting and watching out for this year?

There are certainly some curious and quite different (i.e. novel) approaches to look at.

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westminster-embankmentToday’s news that an FDA Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) review will not be required for rucaparib is good news for Clovis Oncology. The company announced this via an SEC 8K filing:

“The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has notified Clovis Oncology, Inc. that FDA is not currently planning to hold an advisory committee meeting to discuss the Company’s New Drug Application for rucaparib.”

However, given the unmet medical need in ovarian cancer, a lot of companies are targeting both platinum sensitive and platinum resistant disease.

In our fourth preview of the forthcoming European Society for Medical Oncology (#ESMO16) meeting we’re looking at 9 key ovarian cancer abstracts to watch out for at ESMO.

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Iron Men of CrosbyThis is the third in our mini-series previewing the forthcoming European Society for Medical Oncology 2016 Congress in Copenhagen (Twitter #ESMO16).

In this post we’re taking a look at what’s hot in head and neck cancer.

It’s not a cancer type we typically hear a lot about, but there’s an unmet medical need for effective new treatments.

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