Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts from the ‘Acute Leukemia’ category

Oncology R&D is tough and there are many more failures than successes, despite the FDA approving more than they’ve rejected over the last two years. That’s quite unusual in my experience.

Dr Mario SznolAs Dr Mario Sznol (Yale) told us at SITC recently, sometimes these things are sometimes more whimsical. He was referring to different types of modalities that can be used in conjunction with cancer immunotherapies, but the sentiment is also highly relevant to the FLT3 AML space.

The critical questions we need to think here about are:

  1. What’s different about the various approaches?
  2. What can we learn from the FLT3 experiences to date that give us clues about the changing landscape in AML?

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We have followed the roller coaster development of the Bcl2 inhibitor, venetoclax (ABT–199/GDC–0199), for several years now.  There have been some lowlights along the way, but lately, things have been much rosier for AbbVie and Genentech as a more sensible dosing and patient management approach has been paying off.

Recently at ASCO and ASH, we have seen encouraging new data emerge in leukemia (AML and CLL), lymhomas (NHL), and even multiple myeloma.

New data has now emerged that looks quite interesting in another blood disorder. Today, we took a look at the data and also the potential implications for venetoclax’s development program.

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Much has been written about the success of checkpoint blockade in solid tumours over the last couple of years with the advent of anti-CTLA4 therapy (ipilimumab/Yervoy) for metastatic melanoma followed by the more recent approval of the anti-PD-1 antibodies in advanced melanoma (pembrolizumab/Keytruda and nivolumab/Opdivo) and lung cancer (nivolumab).

What about hematologic malignancies though?

At the recent American Society of Hematology (ASH) conference, we heard about the first clinical data for anti-PD1 antibodies in patients with refractory classic Hodgkins Lymphomas (cHL) and saw some impressive results. Interestingly, though, the early preclinical work was conducted in mice looking at CTLA4 blockade in a variety of tumours, both solid and liquid.

YervoyIs there a rationale for targeting CTLA4 in leukemias, lymphomas and even myeloma?  New data presented at a medical meeting in patients with heavily pre-treated and relapsed disease post stem cell transplantation suggests that this might be feasible.

Check out to today’s article to learn more about this clinical opportunity in more detail – you can log in or subscribe in the box below.

The 2015 Annual Meeting of the European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT 2015) was held in Istanbul from March 22-25, where it offered a European perspective on some of the latest developments in cancer immunotherapy. 

EBMT 2015 banner

We’ve heard a lot in the United States about the early CAR T cell therapy clinical trial results from institutions such as UPenn, CHOP, MSKCC, Fred Hutchinson, Seattle Children’s, the NCI, and MD Anderson to name but a few, so it was good to see a leading a European center join the club: University College London (UCL).

While completing a Masters degree in Human and Applied Physiology at King’s College London, I spent several weeks training at UCL and particularly enjoyed the intercollegiality of the University of London.

At EBMT15, Dr Sara Ghorashian Clinical Training Fellow at the Insitute of Child Health at UCL, presented data on a phase 1 trial of Epstein Barr virus (EBV) specific T cells transduced with a first generation CD19 Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR). The trial data was first reported by Dr Ghorashian (pictured below) in an oral presentation at #ASH14 (Abstract 383).

Dr Sara Ghorashian ASH 2014

Dr Ghorashian stated at EBMT that UCL have several CAR T cell therapy trials planned.

autolus-logoReaders will be aware that earlier this year that UCL spun-off a series A funded company, Autolus, to commercialize their CAR T cell therapy research.

Although £30m from Syncona (a subsidiary of the Wellcome Trust) is not a lot of money by US investment standards, UCL is nonetheless a European center to watch if you have an interest in the CAR-T competitive landscape.

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PLA General HospitalThe announcement earlier this week that Cellular Biomedicine Group (NASDAQ: CBMG) has acquired rights to the Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy of the PLA General Hospital in Beijing (pictured right) should come as no surprise to industry watchers. (Link to Press Release).

The share price in $CBMG has risen from $16.31 on February 4 to $23.60 as of close of business on Feb 10, 2015 in what looks like a poorly kept secret!  It looks like most of the rise in share price took place immediately prior to the company’s formal Feb 9, 2015 announcement of the Chinese deal.

CBMG Share Price


Those following the cancer immunotherapy space have known for some time that several Chinese groups are working on CAR-T cell therapies that could be a threat if licensed or acquired.

Given the significant investor interest in this space, which is almost bordering on “tulip mania,” it’s entirely foreseeable that companies looking to share in this opportunity would go looking towards China.

One investor on Twitter in response to this news asked should Chinese data be trusted?

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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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A couple of years ago we had a lot of fun here on BSB following the progress of ibrutinib (Imbruvica), obinutuzumab (Gazyva), and idelalisib (Zydelig) in CLL and indolent NHL.  It seemed back then that the stunning trio were the hot topics for some time at ASCO and ASH meetings.  Exciting times!  All three target different entities (BTK, anti-CD20 and PI3K-delta) and made it past the tape to market, with Gazyva leading, Imbruvica a close second and Zydelig a slightly more distant third.  I was reminded of the race again over the last week or so as the 4Q earnings were announced, with Pharmacyclics reporting almost $500M for Imbruvica last year and estimating sales to hit $1B in 2015.  In contrast, Zydelig revenues for 2014 were $23M, reflective of their much later market entry in the US.

Still, that was a pretty impressive set of drugs all in development at the same time.

Two other agents we also reported on regularly were Infinity’s IPI-145, a PI3K delta-gamma inhibitor, and ABT-199/GDC-0199 (now known as venetoclax).  I haven’t heard much about the former of late, but after a few missteps, the next big question to consider is whether venetoclax is coming back strongly or destined for dog drug heaven?

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Bellicum logoSeveral subscribers have written to ask what we think of Houston based Bellicum Pharmaceuticals?

Bellicum is a company that along with Novartis, Kite, Juno and Cellectis has a Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell therapy in development, amongst other things.

Readers already know the company had a successful IPO in December (NASDAQ: BLCM) and were reported to have raised $140M to fund future development.

This morning, the company announced enrollment of the first cohort of pediatric patients in a phase 1/2 dose escalation trial of BPX-501 (link to press release). This T cell therapy aims to mitigate the risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD) after an allogeneic haploid hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

BSB spoke with Bellicum CEO Tom Farrell and COO Dr Annemarie Moseley to answer some of the questions we think subscribers would like to know more about such as:

  • Market opportunity for BPX-501
  • Mechanism of action of BPX-501
  • Strategic direction the company is taking
  • Vision with regards to its CAR-T development
  • Milestones expected in 2015

We’ve provided some additional commentary on the challenges and opportunities Bellicum may face in the GvHD market and how we think the company stacks up against the competition in the CAR-T space. Be warned this piece is a long read: 6,000+ words!

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Readers don’t need Biotech Strategy Blog to tell them that Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell therapy (CAR-T), along with Checkpoint blockade, is one of the hottest areas of cancer drug development.

The last two days have seen pre #JPM15 deal activity with Kite Pharmaceuticals ($KITE) announcing a commercial collaboration with Amgen ($AMGN), which is not surprising given several of the Kite senior management team previously worked at the company.

Meanwhile, both Seattle based Juno Therapeutics ($JUNO) and Houston based Bellicum Pharmaceuticals ($BLCM) had successful IPO’s at the end of 2014. Interestingly, Bellicum are initially focusing most of their IPO funds, not on bringing their CAR-T to market, but on a novel cell therapy post stem cell transplant that aims to lower graft versus host disease (GvHD). GvHD is something we’ve been writing about regularly here!

Just this morning we’ve seen yet more CAR-T activity, with European Cardio3Biosciences (Euronext Brussels and Paris: CARD) acquiring the CAR-T technology of Oncyte (the oncology division of privately-held U.S. biotechnology company Celdara Medical).

There’s certainly a lot of activity in the CAR-T space and I expect we will hear more at next week’s JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco (#JPM15). One player in the CAR-T space who has not been gaining as much attention, and one that I think should not be dismissed, is Paris based Cellectis (Alternext: ALCLS.PA), who struck deals with both Servier and Pfizer last year. In June, BSB went to Paris and interviewed Chairman and CEO André Choulika, PhD and CSO Philippe Duchateau, PhD. At the recent American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting in San Francisco, Julianne Smith, PhD (pictured below), Vice President CART Development at Cellectis, gave an in-depth interview to BSB. Dr Julianne Smith Cellectis ASH 2014 Interview Some key questions to address here are what are some of the important milestones for Cellectis in 2015 and and what makes the Cellectis CAR-T approach different from other companies in this space? Update Nov 7: This post now has two updates relating to the important news that came out after this post was published concerning the issuance by the USPTO of a gene editing patent that covers Cellectis’ intellectual property.  Subscribers can login to read more or you can purchase access by clicking on the blue icon below.

San Francisco – “Manic Monday” is what I call Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. It’s when the majority of oral presentations take place in multiple parallel sessions that require you to run between meeting rooms if you want to follow a particular drug across different blood cancers.

It’s even more challenging this year by the fact the conference is in three buildings at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. While Moscone North and South are interconnected thanks to an underground atrium, to get to sessions in Moscone West from North/South you have to go out of the building, cross one or two main roads, then go up elevators to the second or third floors. Not ideal! I think ASH is now too big for the venue.

Looking back on yesterday, it was a privilege to be in the audience when Dr Kanti Rai received a well-deserved lifetime achievement award for his work in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). A visibily moved Dr Rai was given a standing ovation by the thousands present in the plenary hall.

Dr Kanti Rai ASH14 LIfetime Achievement Award

Expect the #ASH14 Twitter stream today to be like opening the tap to run a bath. I congratulate all the hematology experts who have shared data and commentary from sessions via social media. #ASH14 stands out in terms of expert engagement and a high signal to noise ratio.

If there was an award for best conference coverage of #ASH14 on Twitter I would nominate @drmiguelperales.

Not only does Dr Perales from Sloan-Kettering share tweets from the sessions that he is in that are accurate and informative, but he frequently offers links to relevant papers for those that want to learn more. In addition to showcasing his expertise, this is a really good way to use social media to educate and inform. I look forward to his commentary, particularly if I am in another session at ASH. A must follow on Twitter!

To the extent possible we’ll be providing updates to today’s live blog throughout the date, subscribers can login to read more or you can purchase access by clicking on the blue icon at the end.
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