In the first of our 2017 AACR annual meeting previews, we are taking a look at a particular theme that we expect to hear much more about over the coming months.
Washington DC cherry blossoms
In order to make something better than what it is, we first need to step back and understand the various factors that underpin it. To do otherwise is akin to the proverbial throwing of mud at the wall and hoping something sticks.
Trying things out just because they seem like a good idea or that’s all you have in your pipeline doesn’t really inspire the greatest of confidence in a clinical trial’s success.
This is also where several factors including tumour biology, cancer genomics, biomarkers, and acquired resistance can intersect to produce some intriguing results.
Please note that our Conference Preview series are never random. When looking at the abstracts as a whole, we try to organise them around a particular scientific theme or a tumour type. The idea here is that it makes it much easier for our readers to see and grasp emerging concepts and trends. It’s also a deeper dive into the whys; things happen for a reason – why is that? What can we learn from the process?
These are also not random selections from say, publicly traded or private companies, big or small caps.
It does take more time to roll thematic articles out, but the advantage is that over the course of the next two weeks readers will be better equipped to get a grip on the meeting ahead of the event.
Indeed, a couple of subscribers even told us last year they learned more from our in-depth previews than they did from the meeting itself because it’s easy to miss the important things or become ‘bigly overwhelmed’ as one bio fund manager explained to me.
Strategically, we’ve taken one specific theme today and explored what we can expect based on what we have learned to date, and looked at how that will potentially impact a few things going forward.
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Orlando, Florida: It’s time for a review of emerging science and clinical concepts. This post is the final one in our latest series from ASCO-SITC.
Here we take a step back and highlight six key emerging trends and ideas that were either presented in talks and posters, or are sentiments based on conversations with attendees in the poster halls or corridors.
Sometimes those discussions are pretty helpful in giving hints on new dirrections before the actual data eventually comes out.
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Hans Bishop, Juno
After a rocky 2016 for Juno with JCAR015 and the trial that imploded unexpectedly and badly, the CEO Hans Bishop quietly announced that announced that ROCKET has been abandoned:
“2016 was a year of progress and learning for Juno and the cancer immunotherapy field. We continue to experience encouraging signs of clinical benefit in our trial addressing NHL, but we also recognize the unfortunate and unexpected toxicity we saw in our trial addressing ALL with JCAR015. We have decided not to move forward with the ROCKET trial or JCAR015 at this time.”
A strange year of hubris attracting nemesis might be another way of describing the events for some observers.
We covered the Juno roller coaster and events in July and December 2016 for those who want to catch up on the full history of this unfortunate and ongoing debacle:
Where does the latest Juno news leave things and what can we expect going forward?
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We’re continuing our coverage of highlights from the inaugural ASCO-SITC Clinical Immuno-Oncology Symposium with a look at a novel way to potentially improve the efficacy of checkpoint inhibitors.
It’s not something we’ve previously written about, nor is it included in the recent Chen & Mellman Nature paper that discusses “factors that influence the cancer-immune set point.”
So there’s a good chance it may not be on your radar either.
Given the commercial stakes at play in improving checkpoint efficacy, combination strategies that could have an impact are worth thinking about when it comes to designing clinical trials.
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With the advent of single agent checkpoint blockade and success in melanoma, lung and urothelial carcinomas has come the realisation that the majority of patients do not respond and even some that do have a response of short duration. Immune escape and adaptive resistance are not an uncommon occurrence.
There has been much focus of late in looking at ways to address this by uncovering the relevant mechanisms underlying the biology of the disease and this is an avenue we can expect to see more research evolve. We already know that JAK1/2 upregulation and PTEN loss have lead to resistance with checkpoint blockade – what about other possible mechanisms?
Indeed, at the ASCO-SITC meeting in Orlando last week, another such target emerged and clinical evaluation is already underway, making it a worthwhile area to explore.
Here we take a look at the science and biology, as well as the emerging clinical landscape to see which companies are involved and may get a jumpstart on the combination niche.
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Sunny Day in Orlando, FL
Orlando, FL was the place to be last week thanks to two specialist meetings in town: BMT Tandem 2017 #BMTTandem17 (joint meeting of ASBMT and CIBMTR), and the inaugural ASCO-SITC Clinical Immuno-Oncology Symposium #Immunosym. Indeed, several speakers spoke at both events!
Throughout this week we’ll be writing about the insights we gained from the two meetings into the latest data and trends in immunotherapy, immuno-oncology and adoptive cell therapy.
We’re kicking off with cell therapy insights from the BMT Tandem Meeting. It’s the joint meeting of the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation and Center for International Blood & Marrow Transplant Research. If you don’t already, do follow the ASBMT President for 2017-2018 Dr Krishna Komanduri, @drkomanduri. He’s actively involved in CAR T cell therapy trials in Miami.
It’s worth remembering that bone marrow transplanters led the way in the use of immunotherapy to provide cures for cancer. Today, the BMT transplant community are pioneering adoptive cell therapy, and in particular CAR T cell therapy in multiple hematologic malignancies including ALL, NHL, CLL and Multiple Myeloma. This makes the annual BMT Tandem meeting one to watch for some of the latest cell therapy data.
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One of the frequently cited conceptual frameworks in Cancer Immunotherapy is the Cancer Immunity Cycle developed by Drs Dan Chen and Ira Mellman from Genentech.
Ira Mellman and Dan Chen
As we heard Dan and Ira tell us on the Novel Targets Podcast recorded last year at #AACR16, the cancer immunity cycle doesn’t include all the elements that we now know impact the immune system and whether someone will have an immune response. The microbiome is one example that readily comes to mind.
To address this, Chen and Mellman have now published the next installment in the series in Nature:
“Elements of Cancer Immunity and the cancer-immune setpoint.”
The review paper published last month incorporates the latest research into a different framework that looks at the factors that influence what they call the ‘cancer-immune setpoint.’
Anyone involved with cancer immunotherapy knows how fast moving and dynamic the field is, something they draw attention to:
“The pace of cancer immunotherapy clinical studies is such that they have outstripped our progress in understanding the underlying science. However, this situation has created the opportunity to combine emerging scientific and clinical insights in a synergistic fashion that… will also provide guidance for the identification of new targets… and the crafting of a framework for making decisions on a personalized basis.”
Conceptual frameworks such as those proposed by Chen and Mellman will be of increasing importance as we try to make sense of the tsunami of cancer immunotherapy clinical trial data, including combinations, that is coming our way over the next 18 months.
During my recent visit to San Francisco for ASCO GI, I had the great pleasure to catch up with Daniel S. Chen, MD PhD, (Global Head of Cancer Immunotherapy Development, Genentech/Roche) and talk about his latest thoughts on how we should think about cancer immunotherapy.
In writing these review papers he told me:
“We look at this as an opportunity to really think about the field, and try to conceptualize what is happening.”
We also discussed their collaboration with Kite Pharma, something of relevance to conferences this week as we head off to BMT Tandem and the ASCO-SITC meeting.
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After several years in the wastelands of cancer research due to lack of significant results and only one product on the market, therapeutic cancer vaccines now look to be back in fashion and are seeing a revival with their inclusion in clinical trials.
One of the reasons behind the resurgence of interest is the advent of checkpoints, and the potential of vaccines in the immuno-oncology space to boost or enhance the immune response.
Their use could not only increase the response to checkpoint inhibitors in people who might otherwise not respond, but in those who obtain some initial response such as a partial response, they could also potentially help achieve a more durable long-term response.
As we continue to ride the wave of cancer immunotherapy on BSB, the cancer vaccine field is suddenly an exciting area to watch.
I’ve long been known as a cancer vaccine sceptic, although recently several approaches in this niche have begun to look rather promising indeed. Here, we highlight and discuss one such company in the field, including an interview with the CEO.
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At the recent Triple (EORTC-NCI-AACR) and ASH meetings, Blueprint Medicines (Cambridge, MA) presented data on some of their targeted compounds in early clinical development including data in KIT, PDGFα and FGFR4 driven cancers.
While many observers attention is currently distracted on cancer immunotherapies, let’s not take our eye off the ball and forget that when we do find driver oncogenes in rare tumours, the activity of TKIs can still be superior in these situations and offer exquisite sensitivity, leading to exceptional responses.
Here, we take stock with a look what Blueprint are doing, where they’re going and also offer some perspectives from senior company executives, whom we interviewed last month.
Which reminds me, someone recently asked why we do so many interviews, “You do a prodigious amount of interviews on BSB, why is that?”
The answer is very simple – to learn faster and share that knowledge with other like minded souls. Charlie Ambler, author of Daily Zen, sums it up well in an essay about Talk Less:
“In Zen tradition, I’d like the kill the Buddha that is Lao Tzu and revise his ancient saying. It’s not that those who talk don’t know and those who know don’t talk— it’s that talking often inhibits us from knowing.”
Thus, the corollary here is that if you undertake interviews with scientists and researchers regularly then you have the pleasure of talking less – the person in the hotseat naturally talks more – and you learn faster.
What’s not to like? We all learn different things depending on our perspective and knowledge base. Sometimes, I even find re-reading old interviews a year or so later while preparing for a new one a related topic teaches me something new I didn’t see or realise before, simply because my own understanding has improved. Hopefully that is also true for subscribers!
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ASH16 in San Diego
Today we resume our coverage from the recent American Society of Hematology (ASH16) annual meeting with a look at some fascinating and highly compelling science that was presented in an obscure and hard to find tiny hall in San Diego.
This story is also about how a small biotech company that many casual observers may not even be aware of, is taking advantage of advances recent research to grab a clinical lead in a very specialised field in oncology that may yield a novel approach worthy of taking notice of..
Genomics is increasingly becoming a core element of cancer research. Think of it as the alphabet soup of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of genomes.
Once we understand and identify the genomic landscape in health and diseases such as cancer, it allows numerous platforms to evolve whereby those unique differences can be identified (as driver vs. passenger mutations, for example), explored in depth, and later key ones targeted with therapeutics. Inevitably, there are many ways to do this.
Much of the focus in genomics has been on DNA, but what about RNA?
RNA is important because a mistake – even a single nucleotide – can be devastating to the cell, and a reliable, repeatable method of RNA processing is necessary to ensure cell survival. Mis-splicing can thus lead to the development of new point mutations and genomic instability deep in the cell nucleus, potentially causing the evolution of certain cancers.
Paradoxically, these aberrations also offer novel therapeutic targets – but are they druggable?
What we are exploring here is a completely different approach, both in terms of how a fledgling company is funded and also the type of research that is conducted.
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