Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Philadelphia – the 2015 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is in full swing, with over 18,000 attendees, it’s probably the world’s largest meeting dedicated to cancer research. The theme is “Bringing Cancer Discoveries to Patients.”

AACR 2015 Annual Meeting Philadelphia

I challenge anyone not to attend, and come away inspired with new ideas on how the field of cancer research will evolve in coming years.

At this year’s annual meeting, not surprisingly, cancer immunotherapy is one of the hot topics. Yesterday there was the simultaneous publication of two papers in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) to coincide with data presented at the meeting.

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)  for the Treatment of Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer

The conclusion of the paper by Edward B. Garon, MD (UCLA) et al was that:

Pembrolizumab had an acceptable side-effect profile and showed antitumor activity in patients with advanced non–small-cell lung cancer. PD-L1 expression in at least 50% of tumor cells correlated with improved efficacy of pembrolizumab.

The other paper published in the NEJM was for:

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) versus Ipilimumab (Opdivo) in advanced Melanoma.

The conclusion of the paper by Caroline Robert, MD PhD, presented at AACR by Antoni Ribas, M.D., Ph.D.(UCLA) was:

The anti–PD-1 antibody pembrolizumab prolonged progression-free survival and overall survival and had less high-grade toxicity than did ipilimumab in patients with advanced melanoma.

AACR 2015 Press Briefing with Dr Topalian, Dr Ribas, Dr Garon

Dr Ribas (left) and Dr Garon (right) are pictured at an AACR media briefing chaired by Dr Suzanne Topalian (Johns Hopkins).

This year’s AACR annual meeting is to paraphrase Bertrand Tombal, “a Grand Cru year”. Not only in cancer immunotherapy, but in metabolism, epigenetics and advances in drug discovery.

We’re excited about the prospect of another three days at the meeting, but in the meantime in this post there’s some top-line thoughts for subscribers on some of the data that caught our attention over the weekend.

In recognition of AACR, there’s $50 off a quarterly subscription if you wish to purchase access (offer valid only during the week of the meeting – ends this Friday!)  If you’ve been sitting on the fence for a while wanting to try out BSB, now is a good opportunity to dip your toes in the water.

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European Lung Cancer Conference 2015Geneva – at the 2015 European Lung Cancer Conference today, Pasi A. Jänne, MD, PhD presented updated progression free survival and duration of response data for the phase 1 AURA trial of AZD9291 (AstraZeneca) in patients with EFGR-TKI-resistant advanced non-small cell cancer (Abstract LBA3).

Dr Jänne (pictured below at ASCO 2014) is Director, Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Dr Pasi Jänne ASCO 2014

It’s hard to believe that it is only about two years since the first patient was enrolled in the phase 1 AURA trial of AZD9291, a third generation EGFR inhibitor. If the FDA regulatory submission takes place, as expected, in the second quarter of this year, then the drug could be approved for sale in the United States before the year end.

It has been fascinating to watch the race to market between rociletinib (Clovis Oncology) and AZD9291. It’s likely both could be approved in the United States before the year end.

That would be great news for lung cancer patients, given the absence of any approved therapy for patients who develop a T790M mutation and become resistant to EGFR inhibitors, such as Tarceva and Iressa.

Readers will know that we have been following the phase 1 AURA trial of AZD9291 since ECCO 2013 in Amsterdam, when the first clinical data was presented.

AstraZeneca are to be congratulated on what is a case study of rational scientific drug development; their path to market strategy highlights the benefit of well-designed early clinical trials. AZD9291 may end up receiving regulatory approval less than three years from the start of the first in man trial – that’s tremendous!

I had the privilege to interview Dr Jänne at ASCO last year, and again earlier this week, before he left Boston for Geneva and chatted with him about his AZD9291 presentation at European Lung.

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Much has been written about the success of checkpoint blockade in solid tumours over the last couple of years with the advent of anti-CTLA4 therapy (ipilimumab/Yervoy) for metastatic melanoma followed by the more recent approval of the anti-PD-1 antibodies in advanced melanoma (pembrolizumab/Keytruda and nivolumab/Opdivo) and lung cancer (nivolumab).

What about hematologic malignancies though?

At the recent American Society of Hematology (ASH) conference, we heard about the first clinical data for anti-PD1 antibodies in patients with refractory classic Hodgkins Lymphomas (cHL) and saw some impressive results. Interestingly, though, the early preclinical work was conducted in mice looking at CTLA4 blockade in a variety of tumours, both solid and liquid.

YervoyIs there a rationale for targeting CTLA4 in leukemias, lymphomas and even myeloma?  New data presented at a medical meeting in patients with heavily pre-treated and relapsed disease post stem cell transplantation suggests that this might be feasible.

Check out to today’s article to learn more about this clinical opportunity in more detail – you can log in or subscribe in the box below.

The 2015 Annual Meeting of the European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT 2015) was held in Istanbul last month, where it offered a European perspective on some of the latest developments in cancer immunotherapy. 

EBMT 2015 banner

We’ve heard a lot in the United States about the early CAR T cell therapy clinical trial results from institutions such as UPenn, CHOP, MSKCC, Fred Hutchinson, Seattle Children’s, the NCI, and MD Anderson to name but a few, so it was good to see a leading a European center join the club: University College London (UCL).

While completing a Masters degree in Human and Applied Physiology at King’s College London, I spent several weeks training at UCL and particularly enjoyed the intercollegiality of the University of London.

At EBMT15, Dr Sara Ghorashian Clinical Training Fellow at the Insitute of Child Health at UCL, presented data on a phase 1 trial of Epstein Barr virus (EBV) specific T cells transduced with a first generation CD19 Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR). The trial data was first reported by Dr Ghorashian (pictured below) in an oral presentation at #ASH14 (Abstract 383).

Dr Sara Ghorashian ASH 2014

Dr Ghorashian stated at EBMT that UCL have several CAR T cell therapy trials planned.

autolus-logoReaders will be aware that earlier this year that UCL spun-off a series A funded company, Autolus, to commercialize their CAR T cell therapy research.

Although £30m from Syncona (a subsidiary of the Wellcome Trust) is not a lot of money by US investment standards, UCL is nonetheless a European center to watch if you have an interest in the CAR-T competitive landscape.

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Recently, Merck have been on a roll in the immuno-oncology space, with the announcement that their anti-PD–1 antibody, pembrolizumab (Keytruda), beat out BMS’s anti-CTLA4 antibody, ipilimumab (Yervoy) in a Phase 3 head-to-head frontline trial in metastatic melanoma. The two primary endpoints of OS and PFS were met and the trial will therefore be stopped early based on the IDMC recommendation. No further details are available until the presentation.

merck_logoThe data from the KEYNOTE–006 study is being presented at the annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) next month in the opening plenary session by Dr Antoni Ribas (UCLA).

While it’s nice to see evidence that one checkpoint inhibitor is potentially superior to another, in the long run, combinations are likely to be the best way forward.  This approach is more likely to yield improved responses in immunogenic tumours, but also to make non-immunogenic tumours more responsive, thereby improving patient outcomes further.

This begs the all important question – what hints from new emerging data can we glean that will help us figure out novel combination approaches with checkpoint inhibitors?

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Some really intriguing news was announced this morning, with Aduro Biotech issuing a press release on their new global collaboration with Novartis for their “immuno-oncology products derived from its proprietary STING-targeted CDN platform technology.”

Many readers will recall Aduro for its program that inserts genetically engineered lysteria into therapeutics aka the LADD regimen. The lead program, CRS–207, in combination with GVAX Pancreas in pancreatic cancer previously received Breakthrough Therapy designation from the FDA. Their scientific advisers include Drew Pardoll and Frank McCormick, who are immunotherapy and protein pathway specialists, respectively.

The collaboration with Novartis is for a completely different platform based on cyclic dinucleotides (CDNs), which are small molecules that are naturally expressed by bacteria and immune cells and have been recently shown to activate the STING (Stimulator of Interferon Genes) signaling pathway in immune cells.

So what’s the significance of this exciting deal and why does it matter?

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Today I’m answering recent questions from readers, in this case on checkpoint inhibition and where this field is going in the near future.

No doubt we can expect to hear a lot of new data and research being presented at the upcoming AACR and ASCO conferences, so this is a timely point to reflect on a few topics of relevance.

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As we’re coming to the end of our European Association Urology (EAU) coverage for 2015, I wanted to discuss at a rather more quirky, off-the-wall topic and look at one of the gems from the poster halls at this conference.

This year, it’s the turn of urothelial bladder cancer (UBC), a topic that doesn’t usually get much coverage or respect when it comes to new product development. Part of the challenge is the need for new targets to aim at because the particular patient population doesn’t tolerate high dose chemotherapy very well.

At ASCO last year, perhaps the surprise (and most stunning) data of the meeting was the anti-PDL1 checkpoint data (Genentech’s MPDL3280A) in refractory UBC, a disease where there are a lot of elderly and frail patients who are challenging to treat in many ways. This certainly put more attention on the disease and raised awareness to the potential opportunities for new, targeted and altogether more benign approaches to treatment. Subsequently at ESMO last fall, we also saw early data for an anti-PD1 antibody (Merck’s pembrolizumab) in advanced urothelial cancer.

Checkpoint blockade is not the only potential way to treat UBC though, so what other novel therapeutics are in development in this space?

To learn more about this evolving landscape, check out our quick review in the article below by signing up or logging in via the box below.

PREVAIL trial EAU 2015We’ve been following the updates on the PREVAIL study evaluating enzalutamide (Xtandi) versus placebo in metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) in the pre-chemotherapy setting for a while now. It’s interesting to see how the data evolves over time as it becomes more mature.

The first presentation, back in January 2014 at ASCO GU by Dr Tom Beer (OHSU) reported on the first 540 deaths and was subsequently followed by an update of the survival data at AUA in May of the same year by Dr Chris Evans (UCLA).

This morning at the European Urology Association (EAU) in Madrid in the late breaking session on prostate cancer, the honour fell to Professor Bertrand Tombal (Leuven), who did a very nice job of reviewing the mature PREVAIL data (based on 765 deaths) and providing some context for how the CRPC landscape is being impacted by AR pathway inhibitors.

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EAU 2015 LogoMadrid, Spain – the results of the Medivation/Astellas TERRAIN clinical trial of enzalutamide (Xtandi) versus bicalutamide (Casodex) in men with metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) were presented today at the European Association of Urology Congress in Madrid (Twitter #EAU15).

Professor Dr. med. Axel Heidenreich. Credit: Universitätsklinikum Aachen

Credit: Universitätsklinikum Aachen

The clinical trial data were presented in a plenary session at EAU15 by Axel Heidenreich (pictured left) who is Professor of Urology & Uro-oncology at the RWTH University and Head of Department & Director of the Urology Program at the University Hospital in Aachen, Germany.

How good are the results, and what impact will they have on the prostate cancer treatment landscape in Europe? Prof Heidenreich kindly spoke with Biotech Strategy Blog (BSB) and shared his thoughts.

Subscribers can login to read the full interview or you can purchase access by clicking on the blue Tinypass icon at the bottom of the page.

Update May 17, 2015: This post has been updated with the additional TERRAIN trial data presented by Professor Arnauld Villers (Lille) at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA) in New Orleans.

Prof Arnauld Villers presents TERRAIN trial data at AUA 2015

Prof Arnauld Villers presents TERRAIN trial data at AUA 2015

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