Biotech Strategy Blog

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

We have followed the roller coaster development of the Bcl2 inhibitor, venetoclax (ABT–199/GDC–0199), for several years now.  There have been some lowlights along the way, but lately, things have been much rosier for AbbVie and Genentech as a more sensible dosing and patient management approach has been paying off.

Recently at ASCO and ASH, we have seen encouraging new data emerge in leukemia (AML and CLL), lymhomas (NHL), and even multiple myeloma.

New data has now emerged that looks quite interesting in another blood disorder. Today, we took a look at the data and also the potential implications for venetoclax’s development program.

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New developments in renal cell carcinoma

Continuing our focus on genitourinary (GU) cancers this week, today we turn our focus from prostate cancer to renal cell carcinoma (RCC).

There were two important announcments on Monday this week relating to renal carcinoma.

Firstly, Exelixis announced positive top line data from a phase 3 pivotal trial of cabozantinib versus everolimus in relapsed metastatic renal cell carcinoma (METEOR).  The study met the primary endpoint (i.e. significantly improved progression free survival) and the company revealed the following data:

  • Cabozantinib reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 42%; Hazard Ratio = 0.58, (p < 0.0001) compared to everolimus
  • Interim Analysis of OS demonstrated a trend in favour of cabozantinib; Hazard Ratio = 0.67, (p = 0.005) compared to everolimus
  • Exelixis to complete US and EU regulatory filings in early 2016

Secondly, a press release from BMS highlighted the phase 3 CHECKMATE–025 trial comparing nivolumab to everolimus, also in relapsed metastatic RCC, where the independent Data Monitoring Committee recommended early stoppage on the basis of the primary endpoint (OS) being met. The company likely be seeking discussions with Health Authorities with a view to filing the data with the FDA and EMA.

There are some interesting points that fall out of these releases. To learn more, subscribers can log-in below or you can purchase a subscription in the box below.

With the launch of Episode 4 of the Novel Targets podcast today, I wanted to provide some more detailed background and a roadmap for this part of the journey for subscribers. There’s tremendous wealth of data now building up in several areas related to cancer immunotherapy and both interviewees, Drs Oliver Sartor (Tulane) and James Gulley (NCI), touched on many of them.

Thanks to Tom Gajewski’s exciting work, we can broadly think about different tumour types as inflamed (immunogenic) versus non-inflamed (non-immunogenic), which is a helpful starting point. Not all tumours thought to be responsive to immunotherapy will actually respond though, so we still have much work to do on the 70–80% of patients with solid tumours that don’t respond to these therapies.

Anyone who is interested can listen to the latest Novel Targets podcast.

The latest episode explores non-immunogenic tumours, using prostate cancer as an example. In the last third of the show, we do indeed talk about a promising new target that may have relevance not just to prostate cancer, but other tumour types too.

Listen to Episode 4  (open access thanks to our sponsors, Genentech)

BSB Subscribers can learn more in-depth information and insights about this emerging field by signing in or you can sign-up in the box below.

Last month’s Biotech Strategy mailbag – where we answer questions from subscribers – turned out to be rather controversial with strong feelings running in several camps on Puma Biotech’s neratinib in breast cancer.

This time around we have a bunch of questions on completely different topics and compounds to cover:

  • BRAF plus MEK and/or immunotherapy in BRAFV600 metastatic melanoma
  • Immunogen’s IMGN853 – now known as mirvetuximab soravtansine – in platinum resistant ovarian cancer
  • AbbVie/Genentech’s ABT–199/GDC–0199 venetoclax

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There can be no doubt that immuno-oncology is a hot topic in cancer research of late with checkpoint inhibitors, immune agonists, immunocytokines, CAR T cells, TILs, TCRs, not forgetting innate immunotherapies.  We’ve written extensively about many of these topics, but what about the companies behind them and their strategies?

One thing subscribers tell us they love reading about here on BSB is not only fireside chats with thought leaders, but also interviews behind the scenes with company personnel, be scientists, clinicians or CSOs.

Recently, we’ve posted some interviews with Roche and Genentech scientists/physicians about their IO platform that were well received. Today, it’s the turn of AstraZeneca and MedImmune, who are also developing checkpoint inhibitors and immune agonists against various cancers.

With the anti-PD1 antibodies i.e. Merck’s pembrlizumab (Keytruda) and BMS’s nivolumab (Opdivo) already approved by the FDA, and Roche/Genentech’s atezolizmuab well on the way to filing in advanced urothelial bladder cancer with the announcement this week that the IMvigor 210 trial in relapsed/refractory disease met its primary endpoint, the big question now remains is what’s happening with the fourth element of the quartet? How well is progress coming along there and what is the main focus we can expect in the near future?

Cambridge PuntingLike most Brits, when AstraZeneca noted back in 2013 that they expect to establish their global R&D hub in Cambridge, I assumed they meant in the Golden Triangle and not Massachusetts. This is a burgeoning area for European biotech research, which is somewhat ironic after the KuDos scientists working on olaparib (Lynparza) moved to Alderley Park in Cheshire with the acquisition and will likely face moving back again!

At ASCO, we had the pleasure of a chat with Dr Rob Iannone, the head of the AstraZeneca Immuno-oncology development program.  The company also published a number of interesting abstracts and posters that were on show in Chicago, as well as a burgeoning pipeline in this area beyond their lead compounds, the anti-PDL1 inhibitor, MEDI4736 and tremelimumab (anti-CTLA4).

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Over the last decade we have seen some real progress with some subsets of lung cancer, particularly in EGFR mutated and ALK translocated tumours.  Indeed, an incredible amount of translational work has emanated from just a few groups based in Boston, New York and Hong Kong.

Dr Jeff Engelman Source: MGH

Dr Jeff Engelman Source: MGH

At AACR earlier this year, Dr Jeffrey Engelman (MGH, Boston) gave a fantastic talk not just about heterogeneity, resistance mechanisms, but also on how lung cancer can transform. Included in his review was the role of biospies and how he sees those evolving.

I’ve been meaning to write up this important talk since April, but decided to wait until the key publications that were in press at the time were actually published – it was a longer wait than expected!

In general, it is our policy to write up published, rather than unpublished data, out of respect to researchers.  It also makes it more useful to readers when the translational and clinical data is publicly available for those interested in reading the in-depth research articles.  We also gathered commentary from other though leaders in the lung cancer space for some additional insights.

To learn more about the latest developments in the underlying complexity and clinical implications for EGFR+, T790M-positive and ALK-positive lung cancers, subscribers can log in below or you can sign up to read our comprehensive review of this topic.

One of the interesting questions raised by the recently announced and much-discussed Juno/Celgene collaboration is whether you really need a Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell therapy in your portfolio to succeed as a global cancer immunotherapy company?

One leading cancer immunotherapy company that believes you don’t is Roche.  At ASCO 2015 I had the privilege to talk about this with a leading cancer scientist, William Pao, MD PhD (pictured below). Dr Pao formerly worked with Nobel Prize-winning scientist Harold Varmus at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and subsequently led the Hematology-Oncology Division at Vanderbilt. He joined Roche in July 2014 to lead their early development of innovative oncology new products (see press release).

Dr William Pao Roche

I particularly enjoyed Dr Pao’s discussion of the T-cell centric strategic framework around which the Roche/Genentech cancer immunotherapy portfolio strategy is based.

If you haven’t done so already, do listen to Episode 3 of the Novel Targets podcast (ASCO Lung Cancer Show) in which you can hear an excerpt from my interview with Dr Pao.

This is the first in a series of interviews with scientific leaders at companies at the forefront of cancer research.

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Yesterday, Juno Therapeutics and Celgene announced a ten year collaboration that is expected to close in July-August.  In short, Celgene has exclusive right to entire the Juno portfolio in oncology and auto-immune cell therapy products in development outside North America and co-promote certain programs globally (not specified).  Juno, meanwhile, gains the option to co-develop and co-promote select Celgene programs (also not specified).

You can see the terms of the deal here.

And listen to the webcast from the call after hours.

This news comes hot on the foot of an earlier announcement that the FDA accepted the Juno IND for JCAR017, a CD19 CAR T cell therapy being developed in relapsed/refractory NHL scheduled to initiate in 2015, with the possibility of a registration trial commencing in 2016.

What was fascinating, however, was the BioTwitter reactions last night – predictably, people either loved or hated the news – it clearly came as a surprise to many.

This morning my inbox is full of questions on this dramatic topic from subscribers, so here are some topline thoughts on this issue to answer the questions coming in.

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Immune checkpoint inhibitors that target CTLA4, PD1 and PDL1 can generate prolonged responses in a minority of patients, but the results so far in prostate cancer have been disappointing. Prostate cancer doctors have not been part of the excitement spreading through the cancer community like a “Mexican wave.”

Prostate cancer has not featured significantly in the cancer immunotherapy news recently, but that’s not to say there is not a lot going on. The phase 3 trial results of ipilimumab (a checkpoint inhibitor of CTLA-4) in the pre-chemotherapy setting of advanced prostate cancer (NCT01057810) are expected soon and there is also the eagerly awaited phase 3 trial of the PROSTVAC vaccine (NCT01322490).

Dr James Gulley ASCO 2015

At ASCO 2015, BSB interviewed Dr James L. Gulley, MD, PhD Chief of the Genitourinary Malignancies Branch and Director of the Medical Oncology Service at the National Cancer Institute (pictured above).

He talked about some of the cancer vaccine work he has done as part of the CRADA (Cooperative Research and Development Agreement) between the NCI and Bavarian Nordic, as well as strategies to help immunotherapy work in those tumors such as prostate cancer that are non-inflamed, where there may be an insufficient immune response for checkpoint inhibitors to work effectively.

Readers may recall we interviewed him at ASCO GU earlier year, “How to make non-immunogenic cancer sensitive to checkpoint inhibitors.” His outstanding work could shape the future of prostate cancer immunotherapy.

This post also includes additional ASCO 2015 commentary on from Dr Oliver Sartor, Professor of Cancer Research at Tulane University, who shared his perspective on the ipilimumab and PROSTVAC phase 3 prostate cancer trials that are due to readout soon.

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