Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Dr Daniel Chen, Roche/Genentech at AACR17

Dr Daniel Chen in the Meet the Expert session at AACR17

At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR17) one of the 7am “Meet the Expert” sessions was with Dr Daniel Chen.

Chen is a medical oncologist and immunologist. He’s also Vice President, Global Head of Cancer Immunotherapy at Genentech and Roche.

He’s perhaps best known in the cancer immunotherapy field for his publication on the Cancer Immunity Cycle with fellow Genentech VP, Dr Ira Mellman. They have a new publication out on the Cancer-Immune Set Point that takes this forward. (See post: Understanding the Cancer-Immune Set Point).

If you missed it, do listen to Chen & Mellman on Episode 11 of the Novel Targets Podcast recorded in New Orleans during the 2016 AACR annual meeting.

At AACR17, Dr Chen kindly spoke to BSB about his vision for cancer immunotherapy. Anyone who has seen the film, “Jerry Maguire” starring Tom Cruise will remember the moment when Jerry drafts the memo on “The future of our business.”

What does the future of cancer immunotherapy look like from the perspective of a leading industry professional active in the field?

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AACR17 audience

AACR17 audience in Washington DC

Over the last few years we’ve written a tremendous about primary and acquired resistance, both in oncogenic and immunotherapies, as well as on combination strategies for turning non-responders into responders and overcoming acquired resistance that induces clinical relapse.

These concepts were still on display in Washington DC at the 2017 annual meeting for American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), but beyond those obvious top line points, what are the next round of ideas and tools that cancer researchers are focusing on?

Based on numerous presentations, ad hoc discussions, as well as over a dozen one to one interviews we completed with oncology thought leaders, some useful and encouraging trends emerged.

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Prof Peter Schmid

Prof Peter Schmid, Barts Cancer Institute

Peter Schmid FRCP, MD, PhD is Professor of Cancer Medicine at Barts Cancer Institute in London, where he is also Clinical Director of the St. Bartholomew’s Breast Cancer Centre and leads the cancer immunotherapy group.

One of my favourite interview quotes of all time comes from his fellow Barts cancer researcher, Professor Tom Powles who told BSB about the results he had seen with the anti PD-L1 monoclonal antibody, atezolizumab (Roche/Genentech) in urothelial bladder cancer:

“I have a cohort of men and women now, who had been told they have 6 months to live who are now two or three years down the line.”

This encapsulates the hope that cancer immunotherapy offers. (See post: Atezolizumab PDL1 Checkpoint Inhibitor will change Bladder Cancer Treatment).  You can also hear Prof Powles on the Novel Targets Podcast (Episode 7).

Barts Cancer Institute in the City of London is pioneering research into cancer immunotherapy in both the clinical and preclinical arenas.

Readers may recall we previously interviewed Professor Fran Balkwill last year about the work her research group is doing into modelling the tumour microenvironment. This is an exciting area that we can expect to hear more about. (See post: Modelling the Tumor Microenvironment).

So where are we with breast cancer immunotherapy in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC)?

It’s now two years since the first atezolizumab TNBC clinical trial data was presented by Dr Leisha Emens (Johns Hopkins) at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), how time flies!  (See post: Checkpoint Inhibitor Data Rocks AACR 2015)

As regular readers know, we like to follow stories over time and report on how the longitudinal data progresses.

Professor Peter Schmid kindly spoke to BSB at the 2017 AACR annual meeting in Washington DC where he presented more mature clinical trial data for the PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor, atezolizumab, as a single agent in TNBC.

What are the key take homes from this data, and the ongoing challenges and opportunities in TNBC?  Prof Schmid shared his unique perspective.

This is the first in a series of expert interviews from #AACR17.

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Washington DC – this is our final daily post from the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

Starting on Monday we’ll be writing up expert interviews and providing commentary and analysis around some of the sessions we went to and the data we heard.

Tuesday at AACR17 was a day when the Corvus Pharmaceuticals stock dropped 50% following presentation of preliminary clinical data for their A2A receptor antagonist CPI-444.

It’s hard not to be disappointed when you see the waterfall plots skewed to the left and above the X axis, but we really don’t have enough data yet to determine whether CPI-444 on it’s own or in combination with atezolizumab may offer benefit to some cancer patients and if so, which ones.

The company have expanded the renal (RCC) and lung cohorts (NSCLC) in their initial trial, and they’ve told us to expect more data at ASCO17 in a few weeks time. Small cap biotech stocks can be a roller coaster when it comes to data presentations at major medical/scientific meetings.

What else caught our attention in the sessions we attended on Tuesday at #AACR17?

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Washington DC – there was so much noteworthy science on display at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) on Monday that hard choices had to be made on what data to see in person.

Despite spending several hours in the poster sections of the exhibit hall, there was only the chance to see a small sample of the posters on display, each representing the culmination of months or years of work.

Poster Hall at AACR 2017 annual meeting

We will be writing our popular “Gems from the AACR Poster Hall” posts in due course.

It’s hard to convey how busy a meeting this is, unless you’ve been. Thousands of posters are shared, multiple sessions run in parallel, and that’s not to mention finding the time for 1:1 expert interviews. There is never much down time.

The challenge for many is that the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. From a media perspective there is no shortage of questions to ask or important topics to cover.

Yet what really makes this meeting exciting is that it provides a glimpse of the future and the hope that offers. The cancer drugs of the future are being talked about at this meeting.

Today’s BSB post offers commentary around on what caught our attention at an extremely busy Monday at #AACR17 in Washington DC.

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Dr Tom Gajewski (Chicago) and Dr Roberta Zappasodi (MSKCC) in plenary biomarker session

Today, the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) kicked into gear with multiple sessions from early morning until late into the evening (Twitter #AACR17)

Above all else the meeting showcases the value of scientific research, and how improving our knowledge of cancer biology is the foundation upon which new drugs and therapies are developed.

If you know or want to know why cancer can be cured in mice but not in humans, then the AACR annual meeting is the place for you.

In today’s post we’re again providing some end of the day topline commentary on the sessions we attended and the data we heard. We also did several expert interviews that we’ll be writing up in forthcoming weeks.

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Waiting in line for the White House Tour

The 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington DC (Twitter #AACR17) officially starts tomorrow, but today was a day full of educational sessions and workshops.

After a day of rain yesterday, it was good to have a dry day for the start of the world’s leading cancer science meeting.

In this post we offer some top-line commentary on those educational sessions we attended; the choice reflects personal interests or current fetishes.

By definition, there is far more excellent research at AACR than we can possibly cover on the blog; so we encourage you to check out the AACR webcasts if you have a specific interest or want to check out a particular session.

We’d also like to congratulate AACR for moving with the times and allowing personal photography and the sharing of content on social media, except where a slide or presentation says “Do Not Post.”

The few slides that I saw today that had “Do Not Post” showed unpublished data. Our longstanding unwritten policy has been not to tweet or share on social media data that clearly states it is unpublished, so this was not an unreasonable request and one we heartily concur with in principle.

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We’ve been saying for a while that 2017 and onwards would be when we start to see a few IO combination trials start to shake out. Interestingly, that process seems to have already started, if recent news is any thing to go by.

With this in mind, the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) coming up this weekend gives us a timely moment to explore combinations that are looking interesting… or not.

In the last of our AACR 2017 Conference Previews, we take a look at what to expect on this year’s program in the IO and Checkpoint arena. In short, it’s quite a lot and not without some controversy either!

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Following the recent approval of Clovis’s rucaparib (Rubraca) by FDA under priority review as monotherapy for the treatment of women with certain types of advanced ovarian cancer, then impressive SOLO-2 maintenance data after initial chemotherapy at SGO earlier this month, PARP inhibitors continue to be in the news.

There’s always more though!

This afternoon saw the approval of Tesaro’s PARP inhibitor niraparib (Zejula) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for maintenance treatment of women with ovarian cancer who are in a complete or partial response to platinum-based chemotherapy (Link to label).

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It’s finally time…

US Capitol Building, DC

By popular request from BSB readers, we have a CAR T cell therapy preview of the main abstracts to watch out for, including talks and posters, and what emerging themes to expect are likely to be.

If you are registered on the AACR site and signed in, then clicking on any of the abstracts highlighted in this review will enable you to add any interesting ones you fancy to your conference itinerary.

There’s a surprising amount to cover this year, especially when we consider the incredible work that’s ongoing to address a number of suboptimal aspects in the construct developments.  It’s continuing to progress at warp speed, so hold onto your hats and buckle down for our latest rock around the AACR clock.

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