Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts from the ‘Neuroblastoma’ category

Photo: National Institutes of Health

After last week’s post on therapeutic tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), we received a bunch of questions from readers.

I don’t have time to answer them all in detail individually (sorry!), but it does provide an opportunity to review the evolving landscape and address some of them within the latest article.

It seems to be a good time to take a broader look at T cell manipulation, especially as it pertains to the application of TILs, chimeric antigen receptors (CAR), and T cell receptors (TCR).

We’ve certainly come along way since the historic lecture in 1991 pictured right (photo: National Institutes of Health), but there’s still some way to go before the full potential of cancer immunotherapy is reached.

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We have written about small biotechs and big pharma a lot on this blog, particularly when they have exciting new developments in their pipeline to review and consider.  Increasingly, we have also begun to look at the early phase companies because often, that is where some fresh ideas and approaches are being developed and tested.

They’re also not beholden to the norm in terms of thinking that’s non-linear and many are academic start-ups that began life as thought leaders doing their own research and eventually VCs get interested, enabling financing to be raised.  The downside of this for some of our readers is that they’re usually not investable as a private company (sorry about that), but we have a broad church here on BSB and instead these small companies attract the interest of enlightened pharma companies who want to license early compounds in areas they are interested in or gain knowledge about a new field of research before buying elsewhere.  In other cases, the approach pays off in clinical trials and we see the IPOs emerge from companies such as Juno Therapeutics.

Syros Pharma LogoOne company that neatly fits this bill is Syros Pharmaceuticals, an academic spin-off from the Whitehead Institute of MIT and Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston based on the pioneering work of Drs Richard Young, Jay Bradner and Nathanael Gray.

Regular readers will remember our original article their the scientific work on gene transcription factors at AACR last year, which included a fascinating interview with Dr Young.  That was probably one of my favourite interviews of 2014 – I was inspired!

NancyHS201303wsdIt’s now time to look at the company and entertain some strategic thinking about where they’re coming from and where they’re going with clinical development.  The CEO, Dr Nancy Simonian, kindly agreed to an interview and be put in the ‘hot seat,’ so to speak.

This screenshot from the Syros website sums up their philosophy: Better medicines through gene control.

Syros Website Screenshot

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We spend a lot of time in the poster halls at scientific and medical meetings such as European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress in Madrid because that’s where the action is in terms of finding nuggets of promising preclinical and early clinical data. You can also spot new trends emerging earlier this way.

ESMO 2014 Poster Hall

At large meetings run by the American Society of Hematology (ASH) and American Association for Research (AACR) there are literally thousands of posters, all of which have passed the grade to merit presentation.

Gaining insights from posters, and in particular, picking those that really matter is often an art rather than a science – a lot of intuition is involved.

This post discusses a few of the posters presented in the developmental therapeutic session at ESMO this year. It focuses on non-immunotherapy topics, i.e. traditional TKIs and monoclonal antibodies to specific mutations or other targets.

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Sometimes you get lucky before a conference and catch an interview with a thought leader ahead of time when it’s more relaxed and less fraught with all the demands of meetings etc while there.

rick young

Dr R Young, Source: WI

That good fortune happened to me on the Friday before the recent AACR conference in San Diego, when I recorded an interview with Dr Richard Young, (Whitehead Institute & MIT and scientific co-founder of Syros), who was giving a plenary talk on the Sunday at AACR entitled, “Transcriptional and Epigenetic Control of Tumor Cells.”

Epigenetics and transcriptional changes are fascinating concepts to me because they get right to the heart of what’s going on deep in the oncogenes and how they control processes in cancer. Clearly, in simplistic terms, if we can understand how things change and evolve, then we can potentially devise better strategies to overcome them. Instead of targeting a protein kinase with a small molecule or a cell surface antigen with a monocloncal antibody, this is an altogether different approach. Protein-protein interactions such as MYC, RUNX1, p53/TP53 etc have long been the bugbear and frustration of many good researchers, precisely because they are challenging to target with conventional approaches.

So what’s new and why am I really excited about these new developments?

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