Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts from the ‘Cancer’ category

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. 

national-harbor-sunset

National Harbor, MD

Bladder cancer is the most common of the urothelial cancers and is the 9th most common cancer globally, with over 400,000 new cases each year and around 165,000 deaths. In the US, approximately 76,000 Americans will be diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2016 and ~11% of new diagnoses are made when bladder cancer is in advanced stages.

Unlike tumour types such as ovarian and pancreatic cancers, the majority of bladder and urothelial cancers are diagnosed at an earlier stage. The rates of recurrence and disease progression, however, are high and approx. 78% will recur within 5 years while the 5-year survival for stage IV bladder cancer is pretty dismal at 15%.

Earlier this year, Genentech/Roche’s anti-PDL1 antibody atezolizumab (Tecentriq) was approved by the FDA in the second line setting and was the first such new approval in this disease for 30 years.

Since then, there has been heightened interest in urothelial and bladder cancers in multiple settings, with several companies rushing to play catch up, including Merck and BMS.

We’ve been following the steady progress of checkpoint blockade this year at AACR, ASCO, ESMO and now SITC – amazingly, what was once a graveyard for Pharmaland has now become a hypercompetitive niche in a very short time.

Here, we take a look at the latest data in advanced urothelial cancers and explore the landscape in the context of rapidly increasing competition.

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Head and Neck cancer – or to be more precise – squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) has joined the checkpoint inhibitor club with two FDA approvals this year. National Harbor Maryland

Firstly, we saw the accelerated approval of pembrolizumab (Merck) based on objective response rate on August 5, 2016 for patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (SCCHN) that has continued to progress despite standard-of-care treatment with chemotherapy.

It’s a dismal disease with a generally poor prognosis in advanced patients once initial therapy fails.

While some patients do benefit with anti-PD–1 checkpoint therapy, the overall response rate in the KEYNOTE–012 trial of 174 patients was pretty low, i.e. 16%. In other words, the majority of patients do not respond or receive any clinical benefit.

Secondly, last week on November 10 nivolumab (BMS) was approved by the FDA based on the phase 3 CheckMate–141 data presented at ASCO earlier this year. The data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with the FDA approval.

There were no statistically significant differences between the two arms for median PFS (2.0 months with nivolumab versus 2.3 months with standard therapy, HR for disease progression or death, 0.89; P=0.32) or ORR (13.3% vs. 5.8%) for nivolumab versus investigator’s choice, respectively. There was, however, a clear benefit in favour of nivolumab in median overall survival (7.5 months in the nivolumab group versus 5.1 months in the control group; HR 0.70; P=0.01).

This effect on patient outcome is a classic pattern for cancer immunotherapy with checkpoint blockade. Response rate and PFS are measurements that are very relevant to chemotherapy, but they are not as relevant to cancer immunotherapies where what is impacted more noticeably is overall survival and the long tail of the curve.

With two approved anti-PD–1 monotherapies in SCCHN, the next challenge has now become how can we improve on monotherapy by boosting the number of PRs to CRs potentially improving long term outcomes and/or turn non-responders into responders? This is the stage we are at in many tumour types now.

Combination approaches are believed to be the way forward, which is why we anticipated with great interest the lirilumab plus nivolumab head & neck combination data presented this past weekend at the 2016 Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) meeting at National Harbor, MD. The presentation is available for download on the Innate Pharma website. The data raises numerous questions and scenarios that can be considered…

  • Are the data exciting, encouraging or disappointing?
  • Are the results enough to give confidence if a phase 3 trial with the combination were to follow?
To address these questions and other critical issues – including red and green flags – we took a deep dive into the data in the context of scientific facts and explored the landscape carefully.

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Part 3 of our series on Gems from the Poster Halls at ESMO continues with a look at another four important combination studies that may be of keen interest to readers.

These include both targeted therapies as well as immunotherapies.

Some of the posters I was originally keen to write about turned out a little unexpectedly with some issues to address i.e. lack of efficacy or unwanted toxicities based on the dosing schedule used and may require tweaking of the dosing, schedule or trial design. Others will unfortunately be destined for dog drug heaven unless a new tumour type offers more promise. Such is the R&D roller coaster that is oncology – sometimes we forget that more compounds fail than make it market.

The good news is that there were plenty of promising approaches that are worthy of writing up and discussing. In the third part of our poster mini-series, we take another deeper dive with a careful look at some new data in Copenhagen.

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One of our popular series from conferences is Gems from the Poster Halls, where we take a look at some of the studies or research data that caught our attention and explain how they may have future significance. In the past, posters have lead to phase 2 or 3 trial designs and subsequent approval. Others have sadly missed signals in small studies that could have prevented an expensive phase 3 faiure. Hence, it is often important to pay attention to posters.

esmo16-poster-hall

The ESMO16 Poster Hall Maze

Posters can also give early warning for what’s developing in pipelines. The BTK inhibitor, ibrutinib, was originally codenamed CRA–032765 (at Celera) and later PCI–32765 (at Pharmacyclics), for example, while the PI3K-delta inhibitor, idelalisib started life as CAL–101 (at Calistoga). We previously followed the progress of these compounds while they were in preclinical and phase 1 and documented progress long before they became active drugs in a race to market in CLL.

My favourite codename is always going to be STI–571 (imatinib). We would start planning ASCO and ASH activities every January and September, so companies should be well in hand in their preparations for ASH and SABCS by now. There’s a tremendous amount of work involved behind the scenes in order to have a great event, and I’m not talking about the fripperies like exhibits and light boxes here.

Last year at ECCO, StemCentRx burst on the scene and were subsequently acquired at a significant premium by AbbVie, taking quite a few people by surprise.

So what can we learn about the data from ESMO this year? What new trends are emerging this time around?

Here, we take a fresh look at FOUR interesting new developments from small and large pharma/biotech companies alike in Part 2 of the Gems series. In the first one [Link], we interviewed an expert and discussed their approach to biomarkers in early small studies to help them better design larger follow-on trials more effectively.

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On their blog earlier this month, the Broad Institute posted a nice piece wittily entitled, “Opinionome: What will be the next big –ome?

It included a chart exploring the main -omes and -omics, as well as suggestions from experts on what they saw as the next hot thing in this space.

university-of-copenhagenAn interesting thing that stood out to me in this timely piece was the complete and utter absence of the glycome and glycomics, which would be my answer to their provocative question – maybe not necessarily as the most hyped one  – but certainly as a very impactful one.

While in Copenhagen for ESMO, we took some time out to meet with a leading global expert in the obscure field of glycomics and had the pleasure of hearing what he had to say about this exciting field of research.

The research may impact not only our knowledge about how cancer progresses, but also how it can be used to design and devise better therapeutics, including CAR T cell therapies. The answers we heard may therefore surprise.

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esmo-poster-hallThis post started out as a look a one of the Gems from the Poster Halls at ESMO, including an interview with a thought leader in biomarkers, then morphed into a broader Op Ed that includes a strategic analysis of where we are, where we are going, and how we could get there more effectively and efficiently.

It’s time to turn tables to start challenging the status quo and slow pace of development if we really want to make a difference in advanced ovarian cancer.  I was recently challenged by a well respected GYN oncologist to delineate how we could do things differently so here are some ideas, along with the scientific rationale in my response to his gauntlet.

Is the ideal situation one where multiple companies randomly throw mud at the wall hoping something sticks the best approach? Or are there more effective ways to make a difference?

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