Biotech Strategy Blog

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

John P. Leonard, MD is the Richard T. Silver Distinguished Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Weill Cornell in New York. He’s a Lymphoma specialist.

Dr John Leonard at ASH16

Like many hematologists, he’s embraced Twitter as way to share his expertise with others in the hematology community. You can follow him at @JohnPLeonardMD.

Over the last couple of years prior to the ASH annual meeting, Dr Leonard has highlighted 10 lymphoma abstracts that caught his attention. You can tell he gets excellent social media pickup by the fact he’s even generated a hashtag to make them easy to find: #Leonardlist and other hematologists generate conversations around his eagerly awaited picks:

In case you missed them on Twitter, and in the spirit of David Letterman, Dr Leonard took me through this year’s #LeonardList and thoughtfully explained in detail why each selection made the cut… for oncology watchers, the why is often more important than the what.

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Some cancer conferences attract more questions and queries than others.

Old Town San Diego

Interestingly, ASH is always a popular meeting for attendees and readers alike, so it is good to see another batch of critical questions come in so soon after the last one. It’s a while since we did two BSB reader Q&A mailbags from a single meeting!

Not surprisingly, there were also a bunch of questions on CAR T cell therapies, which continue to dominate readers minds, as well as related issues. Here, we answer the most pressing questions that have come in over the last week.

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Like migrating birds, the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) has many regular attendees who return each year to enjoy the location and opportunity to hear about latest advances in breast cancer. One leading academic clinician told me she’d been to every meeting for the past 20 years.

The Alamo, San Antonio TX

The Alamo

SABCS offers a unique mix of academic and community doctors, translational researchers, basic scientists and patient advocates. The only downside is that at times the meeting (to an outsider) does feel like a club or family with it’s own idiosyncrasies.

This year, a leading breast cancer oncologist characterized the meeting to me as a “negative one,” meaning several clinical trials were presented that reported essentially negative results.

Although these are an important part of science, and it was good to see them presented, like most of the media, even medical oncologists want to see the “positive” news and that’s understandable. There was no practice changing phase 3 data as in previous years. The trial we most anticipated being at SABCS was delayed due to slow events and that’s a good sign as it most likely means women are living longer…

As readers of the blog will know, we’ve yet to find a medical/scientific meeting that did not offer up pearls, and #SABCS16 was no different in this regard.

Whether you have to spend time in the poster halls or go to obscure sessions, they are there to be found somewhere.

I came away from #SABCS16 with fresh insights into new targets, biomarkers, and also how the world of cancer immunotherapy will interface with genomics. It is these advances in basic and translational science that drive future clinical research.

Experts I spoke to at San Antonio were generous with their time and insights and we’ll be rolling out a series of thought leader interviews in Q1, 2017.

In this post, I wanted to set the scene with what I thought were 3 trends emerging from SABCS16. This is of course, an entirely subjective choice and if you went to the meeting, and/or are an expert in the area, your list would most likely be different.

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After regularly reporting here at BSB on several readouts in terms of antibodies and CARs since ASH last year, it’s reasonable to conclude now that there has been growing interest in BCMA–APRIL as a target in multiple myeloma (MM). The CAR T cell therapies have generally focused on BCMA or BCMA-TACI as a target, while antibody approaches such as Aduro’s, BION–1301, target APRIL.

T cells attacking a cancer cell

T cells attacking a cancer cell

These new therapies have all been either preclinical in nature or preliminary phase 1 studies in a very limited number of patients, meaning that the best we can characterise them is that old reliable chestnut, ‘promising but early’… to do otherwise would be rather extravagant and hopeful at best.

Given the data from several CAR T cell therapy studies were being presented at two meetings on two separate continents only a few days apart, it makes sense to review them as a whole.

It’s therefore time for a detailed update, including a review of the differences in the key studies, a look at where we are now, as well as tips on what to look for going forward.

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San Diego – Monday at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology (#ASH16) is typically a day of multiple oral sessions in parallel.

This year it was a major challenge doing a mad dash between sessions as the meeting is now so big that in San Diego it’s being held, not only at the vast convention center, but is also using the meeting rooms of three nearby three hotels – it’s literally a mile walk to go from one end of the convention to the other, so you have to factor that time into your crazed schedule with multiple clashes.

On the positive side, there’s even courtesy pedicabs – cycle rickshaws (great idea & fun) – I caught one at 7am the other day to save my toes from at least one #blisterwalk…

Pedicab at ASH16 in San Diego

Following on from our ASH Highlights 2016 Part 1, this post answers critical BSB Reader questions that have come in thick and fast and require more than 140 characters on Twitter to answer.

Predictably, the majority of the first tranche of questions have been CAR T cell therapy related, so if you have a keen interest in this area, this is the post for you.  We tackle 5 critical questions and offer some insights.

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San Diego – after “Flying Friday” where I flew from Munich to San Diego, Biotech Strategy Blog coverage of the 2016 annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) is now done for another year.

Downtown San Diego during ASH 2016 With over 27,000 attendees – it’s the largest ASH annual meeting I’ve seen in 20 years of coming here!  ASH is definitely the pre-eminent global meeting for hematology and blood cancers.

As you might expect, the thought leaders at this event are super-busy, but we’ve already managed to catch up with a few, and we’ll be rolling out interviews in the “post-game show.”

Subscribers have been asking what’s really hot at ASH this weekend, so reflecting my interests and the sessions I went to, here are my seven highlights/learnings of ASH 2016 (so far). There’s a lot more data to come!

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Munich – the EORTC-NCI-AACR Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics conference is one of my favourite meetings on the cancer circuit. It’s small enough that you can catch people in the corridor and have a quick chat, while at the same time large enough that it attracts quality data. It’s also the place where you find people who think outside the box.

I want to hear from thought leaders who have the potential to be disrupters.

feuerwurstTalking of another kind of disruption, sadly the travel chaos caused by the Lufthansa pilot’s strike(s) meant some people didn’t make it to the meeting or arrived late. Despite the best efforts of Lufthansa, there was still a good turnout of posters today and several caught my attention!

Those who follow our cancer conference coverage know that the poster hall is often where the gems and insights are to be found, particularly when it comes to early drug development.

If you couldn’t make it to Munich, this post has commentary on four gems from the Wednesday poster session at EORTC-NCI-AACR that caught my attention. I’ve chosen to focus on novel targets and novel combination approaches…

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The first day of the 2016 EORTC-NCI-EORTC Molecular Targets meeting brought us chilly weather and a frozen lake outside the conference centre in Munich.  Brrrr!

gluhwein-munchenIt also heralded a great lineup of cancer researchers largely characterised by unconventional thinking. This, of course, is a good thing because it is only by dismissing dogma that a field can move forward unconstrained.

There were several talks that I will come back to in a separate post, but here I wanted to focus on one particularly good talk on breast cancer, something we haven’t covered in a while.

A decade or two ago, breast cancer made a lot of progress – we saw the emergence of gene expression profiling, the identification of different histology types, treatments for hormonal sensitivity or HER2-positivity and then… nothing.  Meanwhile, the issue of drug resistance plagued researchers – why don’t all women respond and why do they become resistant?

In the meantime, we’ve seen a wealth of progress in melanoma, lung, kidney and bladder cancers, enormous strides in hematologic malignancies and many other areas.  Breast cancer, the early star, seems to have faded and we haven’t had much to be cheerful about aside from a few isolated cases.

The good news is that things are a-changin’ though and research is looking more promising as we learn from lessons in basic and translational research and how they can be applied to new therapeutics and drug resistance.

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Having heard about a one day symposium on immunotherapy organised by Charles River, I headed over to Munich and the EORTC-NCI-AACR conference a day early… Providentially it seems, as the Lufthansa strike will likely affect a few travellers en route to the Triple and ASH/WCLC/SABCS conferences.

cr-ena2016The focus of this excellent one day event was on ‘Mapping the future of cancer drug discovery.’

So what stood out as interesting and intriguing?

Quite a few things, as it turned out, including a novel target in cancer research that I haven’t come across before.

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The 2016 annual meeting of The American Society of Hematology (ASH) is rapidly approaching and starts later this week on Friday in San Diego (Twitter #ASH16).

ASH15 Late Breaker Session“Super Friday” at ASH, as it’s commonly known, is a day typically associated with satellite symposia, where company’s and organisations sponsor or give unrestricted grants for continuing medical education (CME) around a specific topic or theme. These are professionally produced events that offer fair balance and a line up of experts.

There are also scientific workshops and unofficial meetings not part of ASH….so if you have plans to be in San Diego on Friday where should you be? 

I’m flying in late Thursday and have carefully reviewed all my options for Friday, of which there were many.

ks-beerdetail-2016-03-rtaOne now jumps out to me as a “must attend” and I’m afraid it’s not drinking a Red Trolley…. You’re welcome to join me or can maximise your mileage by going to another event and avoiding duplication of coverage.

Tomorrow @MaverickNY will be kicking off her coverage from Munich and the EORTC-NCI-AACR Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics Symposium (Twitter #ENA2016) before flying to San Diego on Friday.

If you’re hoping for coverage of World Lung from Vienna, I’m afraid that fell through the cracks thanks to it’s change of date from September to December and the clash with ASH who always hold their annual meeting around the same time.

After #ASH16 I’ll be doing the “on, on, on” to San Antonio for #SABCS16. It’s going to be a busy 2 weeks!

Happy Cyber Monday! Subscribers can login to read my ASH16 Super Friday Preview or you can purchase access below. 

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