ASH16 in San Diego
Today we resume our coverage from the recent American Society of Hematology (ASH16) annual meeting with a look at some fascinating and highly compelling science that was presented in an obscure and hard to find tiny hall in San Diego.
This story is also about how a small biotech company that many casual observers may not even be aware of, is taking advantage of advances recent research to grab a clinical lead in a very specialised field in oncology that may yield a novel approach worthy of taking notice of..
Genomics is increasingly becoming a core element of cancer research. Think of it as the alphabet soup of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of genomes.
Once we understand and identify the genomic landscape in health and diseases such as cancer, it allows numerous platforms to evolve whereby those unique differences can be identified (as driver vs. passenger mutations, for example), explored in depth, and later key ones targeted with therapeutics. Inevitably, there are many ways to do this.
Much of the focus in genomics has been on DNA, but what about RNA?
RNA is important because a mistake – even a single nucleotide – can be devastating to the cell, and a reliable, repeatable method of RNA processing is necessary to ensure cell survival. Mis-splicing can thus lead to the development of new point mutations and genomic instability deep in the cell nucleus, potentially causing the evolution of certain cancers.
Paradoxically, these aberrations also offer novel therapeutic targets – but are they druggable?
What we are exploring here is a completely different approach, both in terms of how a fledgling company is funded and also the type of research that is conducted.
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Much of the focus in multiple myeloma over the last decade has focused on two key drug classes – proteasome inhibitors and IMiDs – with some recent approvals for monoclonal antibodies targeting key proteins on the surface of malignant myeloma cells such as CD38.
#ASH16 in San Diego
Combinations of these core therapies have lead to a noticeable improvement in outcomes for people living with the disease – from 3-4 years over a decade ago to now approaching 10 years post diagnosis.
If we want to continuously beat the status quo and improve on the chronicity, however, it is likely that several things will need to happen:
- Better understand mechanisms of resistance that induce relapse
- Develop predictive biomarkers of response
- Identify novel therapeutic targets
Here. we focus on the latest preclinical findings that were recently presented at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) in San Diego and explore where the future might be headed in this disease.
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As we move from monotherapies to combinations in the immuno-oncology space, we start to see some intriguing ideas being explored from additional checkpoints to vaccines to neoantigens to immune agonists to oncolytic viruses. There are numerous ways to evaluate how to boost or jumpstart more immune cells upfront in the hope of seeing better efficacy.
One way to do this is to better understand the tumour microenvironment.
Wall of people at ASH16 in San Diego
If we know what’s wrong under the hood, we might be better able to make the immune system get going… more gas, faulty starter motor, dead battery, loose wire, broken fan belt? All these things and more might be a problem so you can see that diagnosing the issue up from from basic and translational work might be instructive for clinical trials.
If you don’t know what problem you’re trying to fix or repair then you might as well be throwing mud at the wall. Just as we don’t expect a car mechanic to suggest changing the battery or starter-motor without first diagnosing the issue, so understanding the tumour microenvironment in each different cancer or disease might also be a helpful strategy.
At the recent American Society of Hematology annual meeting (#ASH16), there was a fascinating sceintifc workshop that focused on this very concept – what’s going on under the hood and how do we go about fixing it?
Here we explore these ideas via an interview with a thought leader and specialist in the field. What he had to say was very interesting and candid indeed.
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One of the pioneers of CAR T cell therapy in children is Dr Stephan Grupp, who is Director of the Cancer Immunotherapy Program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
Dr Stephan Grupp ASH16
He led the way in developing ways of treating cytokine release (CRS) syndrome through the use of tocilizumab. At the recent American Society of Hematology annual meeting, Dr Grupp presented the results of the ELIANA study, the first global, multi-center clinical trial with CTL019 (Novartis) in pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (p-ALL).
What was surprising to many at ASH was that despite the fact that CAR T cell therapy is one of the hottest topics in hematology (if not the hottest), many presentations were in small (tiny) meeting rooms, which many people could not get into. Several overflow rooms were rapidly opened up, but still people were left out. Someone clearly did not get the memo!
If you didn’t make into the meeting room at ASH to hear Dr Grupp, he kindly spoke to BSB about the data he presented and also shared his perspective of what the future may hold for CAR T cell therapy in pediatric ALL.
There’s also additional commentary on some of the other key CAR T cell presentations that caught our attention at ASH.
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Over the last five years the face of the chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) landscape has changed quite dramatically with the advent of new approvals in several categories. These include anti-CD20 antibodies, BTK inhibitors, PI3K inhibitors and apoptotic Bcl–2 inhibitors.
In yesterday’s wide ranging interview we explored in-depth how these therapies are impacting the broader landscape, as well as emerging trends in how these regimens might be used.
In Part 2 of the ongoing series, we spoke with another CLL expert and explored promising new and earlier agents in development for a different perspective on how outcomes might be improved further.
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Targeted therapy and Chemo-Immunotherapy in CLL
At last December’s 2016 annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, one of the areas that attracted attention was the latest clinical data on the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
ASH 2016 in San Diego
In recent years, we’ve seen tremendous advances in the field with several new agents approved such as obintuzumab, ibrutinib, idelalisib, and venetoclax. There are also new treatment options available for CLL patients with high risk disease such as 17p deletions (Del17p).
Other new targeted therapies such as acalabrutinib are now in clinical development, plus we have CAR T cell therapies and combination strategies also being evaluated in the clinic.
So what was the hot news from #ASH16 in CLL?
- Does chemotherapy still have a role or is it a targeted therapy world?
- Are we further forward towards a cure?
- Have we worked out how to identify those at risk of relapse?
- Will CAR T cell therapy be a game changer in CLL?
- Is financial toxicity going to be an issue with combination strategies?
BSB interviewed two experts in CLL while in San Diego who kindly shared their thoughts on which CLL data impressed them at the ASH annual meeting and discussed some of the big strategic issues facing the field right now. These interviews are being posted in a two-part series.
Part 1 today answers some of the questions highlighted above and explores the changing face of the broader CLL landscape.
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One of the interesting and exciting parts of major medical meetings such as the ASH annual meeting, held last month in San Diego, is hearing about new compounds in development.
When it comes to the treatment of aggressive lymphomas, there remains a high unmet medical need to improve the response rate to first line treatment, as well as offer better outcomes post relapse.
At #ASH16, we heard more about a novel ADC called polatuzumab vedotin (Genentech/Roche).
Preliminary safety and clinical data for polatuzumab plus obinituzumab in relapsed or refractory Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) was presented in an oral session by Dr Tycel Phillips (University of Michigan).
Three posters were also presented showing early data in combination trials in R/R follicular lymphoma (FL) and diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL), as well as in first line DLBCL.
To find out more about the potential of this novel ADC, BSB spoke with Dr Michael Wenger, Senior Group Medical Director at Roche Genentech.
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Yesterday sudden and unexpected news from Seattle Genetics caused quite a stir…
“Seattle Genetics Announces Clinical Hold on Several Phase 1 Trials of Vadastuximab Talirine (SGN-CD33A).”
Part of the Seattle Genetics exhibit booth at #ASH16, taken with permission
In short, over 300 patients have been treated with the ADC and six experienced hepatotoxicity, including several cases of veno-occlusive disease, with four fatalities.
We’ve written about AML several times recently and also received a number of reader questions on this latest development, so it’s time to explore the issue in more depth and look at the implications. We also include some expert commentary from a leukemia specialist for their take on the issue.
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The 2016 annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology with over 27, 000 attendees, a record high, was the venue for the announcement of a major new initiative by the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS), called Beat AML.
It is lead by three well respected researchers in the Hematology/Oncology field:
- Dr John Byrd (Ohio State)
- Dr Brian Druker (OHSU)
- Dr Ross Levine (MSK)
Beat AML is a special project at LLS, who have developed a broad collaboration with academic researchers, pharmaceutical companies, a genomic provider, and a clinical research organization:
Initially, there will be five trial sites, which will each offer all arms of the trial. The centers are:
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York
- The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ohio
- OHSU Knight Cancer Institute in Oregon
- Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and
- Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, both in Massachusetts.
Further sites and (hopefully) also other drugs from pharma companies will be added in due course, so if you’re interested in joining this project, do contact them after checking out more details here!
For our industry readers, this would be a great opportunity to get involved in an exciting and landmark study for AML, whether you are a researcher or a company with a promising drug in early development. These types of trials can help speed up drug development if a therapy graduates in a particular subset.
Here, we offer an in-depth analysis of the scientific and clinical rationale behind this important landmark study and the targets/drugs selected to date.
BSB also spoke with Dr Brian Druker, Director of the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) Knight Cancer Institute in Portland, Oregon, who offers additional insights on the special project.
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John P. Leonard, MD is the Richard T. Silver Distinguished Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Weill Cornell in New York. He’s a Lymphoma specialist.
Dr John Leonard at ASH16
Like many hematologists, he’s embraced Twitter as way to share his expertise with others in the hematology community. You can follow him at @JohnPLeonardMD.
Over the last couple of years prior to the ASH annual meeting, Dr Leonard has highlighted 10 lymphoma abstracts that caught his attention. You can tell he gets excellent social media pickup by the fact he’s even generated a hashtag to make them easy to find: #Leonardlist and other hematologists generate conversations around his eagerly awaited picks:
In case you missed them on Twitter, and in the spirit of David Letterman, Dr Leonard took me through this year’s #LeonardList and thoughtfully explained in detail why each selection made the cut… for oncology watchers, the why is often more important than the what.
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