Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts from the ‘Cancer’ category

Challenges and Opportunities in the evolving 1L NSCLC Landscape

Rolling English Landscape in Devon

Following a series of events – from BMS’s failure with nivolumab monotherapy… to Merck’s sudden announcement to file their combination of pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy… to AstraZeneca’s delay of the MYSTIC trial exploring durvalumab plus tremelimumab this week, there’s never a dull moment in lung cancer!

So can we expect some more surprises in store in 1L NSCLC?

I say yes we can!  

The big questions are what are they and what impact will they have?

2017 is ironically, the year of the Rooster – so who’s going to crow loudly at dawn and who is going to get strangled in the process?

In the world of cancer research it is unlikely that everything wins or is successful, so figuring out the early signs and hints is an important part of the process.

One thing I learned early in this business is that it pays for companies to be humble, flexible and open minded rather than arrogant and dogmatic in their thinking… otherwise you can easily be blindsided.

There were a few examples of that in oncology R&D last year, a repeat could very well follow in 2017 for the unwary.

Here we look at 1L NSCLC in the context of multiple phase 3 trials that are slated to read out… from AstraZeneca, BMS, Merck and Genentech.

If you want to know what the potential impact of these events are on the landscape, including what we can expect from MYSTIC, CheckMate-227 and several others, then this is the post for you because some surprises are likely in store.

We cut through the chase to explain the what and the why in clear simple language.

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At the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS16), I had the great pleasure to talk with a leading inflammatory breast cancer expert and translational researcher, Naoto T. Ueno MD PhD.

Dr Naoto Ueno at SABCS16

Dr Ueno is Executive Director of the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

He’s active on Twitter where, as @teamoncology, he shares information on the latest developments in breast cancer, often writing in Japanese for his followers.

A cancer survivor himself, he also brings an empathy to patient care through his own treatment experience.

Anyone who follows him on Twitter, will also know he is a “foodie.”  Prior to our chat, I joked he should write the definitive guide to San Antonio restaurants for attendees… he definitely ate better than I did at the meeting!

MD Anderson also has an IBC conference coming up next month for those interested in the area:

What caught my attention at SABCS16 were posters from MD Anderson researchers that offered insight into the challenges and opportunities in targeting this rare form of breast cancer, something we don’t hear a lot about.

Subscribers can login to read the interview Dr Ueno kindly gave BSB or you can gain access via the blue button below… this is the fourth in our series of expert interviews from San Antonio.

If you have a keen interest in IBC, do follow @teamoncology – if you don’t already!

At the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (#SABCS16) one of the mini-symposia that caught my attention was on “Harnessing the Immune System in Breast Cancer.”

A line-up of top researchers and clinicians shared the latest on breast cancer immunotherapy:

  • Laurence Zitvogel MD PhD (Gustave Roussy), “From Breast Cancer Surveillance to Immunotherapy
  • Leisha Emens MD PhD (Johns Hopkins), “Breast Cancer Immunotherapy: Building on Clinical Success”
  • Andy Minn MD PhD (Univ of Pennsylvania): “Identification of Resistance Mechanisms to Checkpoint Blockade for Cancer”
Dr Laurence Zitvogel SABCS16

Dr Laurence Zitvogel at SABCS16

Readers of the blog will recall we last spoke with Dr Emens at the AACR 2015 annual meeting (is it really that long ago?!) where she presented the first data for the PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor atezolizumab in Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). See post: “Checkpoint data rocks AACR 2015.”

You can also hear Dr Emens talk about the data on Episode 1 of the Novel Targets Podcast.

What’s new in breast cancer immunotherapy and how have things advanced since then?

At SABCS16, we heard about a novel immunotherapy strategy targeting adenosine in breast cancer, and the trial with an adenonsine antagonist, CPI-444 (Corvus Pharmaceuticals, NASDAQ: CRVS) that’s now underway.

Last September, Corvus senior scientist Stephen Willingham, PhD and Chief Business Officer, Jason Coloma, PhD spoke to BSB about the data they were presenting at the 2016 CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR Cancer Immunotherapy Conference in New York. See post: “Corvus moves fast to target the tumor microenvironment and improve checkpoint responses.

Corvus had a presentation at the 2017 JP Morgan Healthcare conference (#JPM17) yesterday, and we’ve included some additional commentary on that in this post.

After the SABCS16 cancer immunotherapy mini-symposium, Dr Leisha Emens, Associate Professor of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, kindly spoke to BSB.

Dr Leisha Emens SABCS16

Dr Leisha Emens at SABCS16

She’s one of the rock stars of breast cancer immunotherapy, and it was truly a pleasure to catch up with her again in San Antonio.

This is the second in our series of expert interviews from #SABCS16. In case you missed the prior posts and want to bookmark for the upcoming ones, you will find them on the conference page (Link).

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The Future of our (cancer research) Business

Happy New Year! No one really wants to spend too much time in the past dwelling on the negatives, what didn’t work, and in some spectacular cases, who’s to blame for it.

What we do want to know is what are the learnings from such endeavours and where are we going next.

Let’s look forward rather than backwards then and see what the Maverick’s crystal ball is showing in terms of fresh clarity and new trends we can learn from …

In today’s post I want to take a moment to look at some of the trends we can expect to see occuring in cancer research in 2017.

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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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If you’d like to buy a quarterly subscription as a gift for someone, do contact us and we can arrange for it to be set up to run from the New Year in the recipient’s name.

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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