Biotech Strategy Blog

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

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, durvalumab (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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Many years ago, I used to work in the sarcoma and GIST space, which is a very interesting and fascinating disease to explore from a biology perspective. There are many different subsets of sarcoma, several different histologies, as well as numerous targets such as KIT in gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST). Some of these subsets are sensitive to chemotherapy such as doxorubicin, while others such as GIST are sensitive to targeted therapies including imatinib, sunitinib, regorafenib etc. Imatinib (Gleevec) is particularly effective in GISTs with exon 11, while the less common exon 9 has been shown to be more sensitive to sunitinib (Sutent), for example.

Often pharma companies will work with the Sarcoma Alliance for Research through Collaboration (SARC) cooperative group to undertake a phase 1 allcomers trial to evaluate which subsets might be appropriate for a given therapy, before exploring a narrower inclusion/exclusion criteria in a larger phase 2 or 3 study.  You can check out their current clinical trials in sarcomas here.

Overall, people with malignant sarcomas tend to be seen by specialist centres where there are usually clinical trials available, representing a way to determine which of the agents in development are superior to the current standard of care.

Dr Margaret von Mehren

Dr Margaret von Mehren

One of my favourite moments at ASCO this year was escaping the heavily mobbed poster halls to sit down for a quiet ‘fireside chat’ and catching up with an expert in this field to learn more about the latest new developments in sarcoma.

I’m delighted to publish another thought leader discussion today on Biotech Strategy Blog (BSB), where we have an in-depth interview with Dr Margaret von Mehren, the Director of Sarcoma Oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center.  She has spent spent her career trying to identify new therapeutics for gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST), as well as soft tissue sarcomas (STS).

To learn more about the latest insights on soft tissue sarcoma and GIST, you can log in or sign up in the box below.

In today’s post, it’s time to address a bunch of questions we’ve received over the last few weeks from subscribers about the latest and – not so greatest – in cancer research.

Chicago City View

ASCO 2015 Chicago

Sometimes these queries are fairly straightforward to answer, other times requires some sleuthing and hunting down thought leaders for some additional context and insights… For obvious reasons, these folks are best caught in person at cancer conferences such as AACR and ASCO.  The feedback isn’t always sparkly and positive though, it can also be gloom and doom, just like the inclement weather!

So here goes, questions on the following are covered in the article below:

  • Neratinib
  • Bavituximab
  • Gilead
  • Enzalutamide
  • MDSCs

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