Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Dr Michel Sadelain AACR 2016

Dr Michel Sadelain at AACR 2016

Dr Michel Sadelain, Director of Cell Engineering at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York is a pioneer in the field of adoptive cell therapy.

Without his contribution, it is unlikely CAR T cell therapy would be where it is today.

He’s also President of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT), whose annual meeting is currently underway in Washington DC from May 4 to 7 (Twitter #ASGCT16).

Recently at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Dr Sadelain gave an outstanding presentation on turbo-charged CAR T cells, and shared some of his ideas on how to move the field forward.

In New Orleans, he also kindly spoke to BSB, and discussed how he thinks cell therapy researchers may obtain the “holy grail” of getting CAR T cell therapies to work effectively in solid tumors.

Dr Sadelin is someone who wants to break the immunology rules!

Not surprisingly, Dr Sadelain is optimistic and doesn’t share the view expressed by Dr Steven Rosenberg on CAR T cell therapies being limited to mostly hematologic malignancies when we interviewed him a year ago at last year’s ASGCT meeting.  There’s nothing like a friendly controversy to spice the field up!

If you haven’t already done so, do listen to Dr Rosenberg on Episode 5 of the Novel Targets Podcast (@TargetsPodcast).

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Driving St Charles StreetcarAfter exploring the science behind chemotherapy improving T cell trafficking into the tumour yesterday – which is one of the key rate limiting issues that need to be addressed with immunotherapies such as checkpoint blockade – some obvious follow-up questions comes to mind:

  1. Does the compelling data in mice translate to humans?
  2. Can chemotherapy turn a cold tumour into a hot one?
  3. Will patients have improved outcomes as a result – or not?

It’s easy to dismiss traditional therapies in favour of appealing new developments, but what happens when we combine them?  Do we get additive effects, synergies or a negative impact?

As part of our ongoing AACR coverage, we explored this conundrum in the context of new data readouts, as well as the broader competitive landscape.

What we found was really interesting!

BMS, Merck and Genentech/Roche all have trials ongoing in the metastatic colorectal cancer space, with very different approaches being taken.  Does it matter?  Which one’s driving the bus?  We summarise these trials and offer some strategic insights on this niche.

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One of the unintended consequences of the rise of cancer immunotherapy has been the fall in interest from patients who might be candidates for entry into clinical trials for other therapies, such as chemotherapy and targeted agents, for example.

St Charles Streetcar New OrleansA number of industry friends have uniformally expressed concern over how difficult it has been enroll such trials and bemoaned the broader – and often not anticipated – effect to the extent that some trials have even been terminated.

This situation often occurs, not because of lack of efficacy or severe side effects, but simply a lack of enthusiasm and low accrual rates. Quite a few patients consider chemo to be nothing short of ‘poison’ and don’t want anything to do with it as a result, unless it can be avoided.

Here’s my advice to those in this situation – stop moaning, start re-thinking, and re-positioning your agent in a different light to the investigators who enroll these studies. If they lack heart, in a highly competitive world, you have to stand out and thus, everything flows from the basic rationale of what you’re trying to accomplish.

What exactly do we mean by that?

Yesterday, we discussed one of the rate limiting steps in the cancer immunity cycle – getting more T cells into the tumours so that that subsequent immunotherapy can be even more effective.

One way to do that?

Chemotherapy!

At AACR recently, we came across some intriguing ideas and approaches that are being discussed and explored, which may open many people’s eyes and minds. It rapidly became clear during discussions with several experts that all is not what it seems, and smart companies are already taking advantage of the new science that is emerging as well as a deeper understanding of the underlying biology of how the immune system behaves in cancer patients.

Here, we offer insights from our latest interview with a thought leader in the field for his perspective on how we can improve response rates and outcomes with cancer immunotherapy.

Fair warning: I must confess that it opened my own mind to fresh ideas and different approaches in an unexpected way – you may experience the same sentiments.

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UNO SignIn our post AACR analysis, I noticed some consistent observations across multiple talks and informal discussions with thought leaders.

Some of these ideas are pretty important and help us see the big picture for the near and medium term future in the cancer immunotherapy space.

The “Claws” sign we saw at the University of New Orleans sums things up!

Without much ado, it seems a good point to capture and summarise these ideas so that readers can compare notes and debate their thoughts too.

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It’s the end of April and just in time for two important things here on BSB…

Dan Chen and Ira Mellman on Novel Targets PodcastA) Season 2 of our Novel Targets podcast has now kicked off!

The first show (sponsored by Genentech) explores the cancer immunity cycle (CIC), how it can help see the bigger picture and how this framework can be used to help figure out what areas are missing when patients don’t respond to immunotherapy.

There are also predictions about what we will see coming up in the next year – will the crystal ball be accurate – or not?

Crank up the Sonos, grab a coffee, pen and paper – you’ll find the latest podcast show here (Link), which is open access for anyone who wants to listen.

B) Reader Q&A Mailbag: we tackle your latest tough questions that are top of mind and offer insights on the hot topics people want to know about.

We have a broad range of topics to cover today including:

  • The battle for PD-1 sales
  • What are the IO bottlenecks where we can expect to see new research focus
  • Sanofi-Medivation bid
  • AbbVie snapping up StemcentRx

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Today we take a short break from our AACR conference coverage and look at some creative new research that has its roots in oncology, i.e. antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), while being adapted and adopted for use in microbiology and infectious diseases.  Here at BSB, we have always been attracted to innovative science and technology and this latest project certainly fits that bill.

This is not such a stretch as many may think, after all, advanced cancer patients or those in an ICU  tend to be prone to infectious complications, which can, unfortunately, be lethal.

While this work is currently ongoing in the preclinical setting, it could be something we hear a lot more about in the near future as clinical development rolls out and there is a dramatic impact for patients.

Curious as to what all the fuss is about?

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AACR 2016 PostersNew Orleans – Tuesday is the last full day of the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), and the last day of our #AACR16 rolling blog posts.

What struck me at this meeting has been the explosion in cancer immunotherapy research. It’s worth remembering that where we are today is the result of pioneering work done over the last 15 years by researchers, many of whom struggled for funding and recognition as they laid the foundation for where we are today.

Tomorrow, the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, will fly in to address the closing plenary session of the meeting. Mr Biden’s remarks will be live streamed by AACR (link to information).

There’s a lot happening at AACR today and tomorrow; and as conference die-hards we’ll be here to the end in order to capture some really interesting data that’s on the program.

Subscribers can login to read our AACR Day 4 commentary or you can purchase access in the blue box below.

AACR16 RegistrationNew Orleans – it’s Day 3, Monday, at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). Attending AACR for the first time can be a daunting prospect, with a full program of activities from dawn to dusk.

For those of who don’t regularly go to large medical meetings, it’s all too easy to forget the sheer scale of the event and how mach walking is involved up and down long corridors – it’s easy to clock up 15,000+ steps on your Fitbit!

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New Orleans AACR 2016New Orleans – here at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the emphasis has shifted from yesterday’s education program to the start of the scientific programme.

If you didn’t make it to the Cell Press/Nanostring, “What’s Next: Bit Topics in Cancer Immunology” event yesterday evening at the Bourbon Orleans hotel in the heart of the French Quarter, you missed a great unofficial AACR16 event that featured a panel of leading experts:

  • Aviv Regev, PhD (Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard)
  • Tom Gajewski, MD, PhD (University of Chicago)
  • Dan Chen, MD, PhD (Genentech)
  • Pam Sharma, MD, PhD (University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center)
  • Michel Sadelain, MD, PhD (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center)
  • Jerome Galon, PhD (INSERM)
  • Ira Mellman, PhD (Genentech)
  • Catherine Wu, MD (Dana Farber Cancer Institute)

Throughout the day, schedule permitting, we’ll be posting top-line commentary from the sessions we’ve been in.

You can also catch up with the commentary from the Day 1 Live Blog, which has several updates from yesterday (Link).

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New Orleans StreetCarNew Orleans – the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) starts in earnest today with a full program of educational sessions presented by leading experts in different fields.

There’s a lot going on at AACR, with many sessions in parallel, so always remember the “law of two feet” – if the session you are in isn’t interesting, what you expected or isn’t meeting your needs – get up and go to another one!

Starting today and through Tuesday will be posting a daily blog with commentary around the sessions we attend and the people we speak to. It won’t be real-time, but to the extent possible we’ll be providing updates during the day.

It kills us to do semi-live posts from conferences, but they’re popular with subscribers, many of whom enjoy reading top-line commentary during the meeting, then our in-depth pieces later.

If you’d like to join the club of readers who enjoy access to our content, much of which by definition is exclusive – we don’t think anybody else does what we do or talks to as many thought leaders….

The good news is that a quarterly subscription will also cover you for ASCO 2016 in Chicago.  If you’d like to support our conference coverage, you can purchase access below. Subscribers can login to read more.

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