It’s finally time…
US Capitol Building, DC
By popular request from BSB readers, we have a CAR T cell therapy preview of the main abstracts to watch out for, including talks and posters, and what emerging themes to expect are likely to be.
If you are registered on the AACR site and signed in, then clicking on any of the abstracts highlighted in this review will enable you to add any interesting ones you fancy to your conference itinerary.
There’s a surprising amount to cover this year, especially when we consider the incredible work that’s ongoing to address a number of suboptimal aspects in the construct developments. It’s continuing to progress at warp speed, so hold onto your hats and buckle down for our latest rock around the AACR clock.
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Hans Bishop, Juno
After a rocky 2016 for Juno with JCAR015 and the trial that imploded unexpectedly and badly, the CEO Hans Bishop quietly announced that announced that ROCKET has been abandoned:
“2016 was a year of progress and learning for Juno and the cancer immunotherapy field. We continue to experience encouraging signs of clinical benefit in our trial addressing NHL, but we also recognize the unfortunate and unexpected toxicity we saw in our trial addressing ALL with JCAR015. We have decided not to move forward with the ROCKET trial or JCAR015 at this time.”
A strange year of hubris attracting nemesis might be another way of describing the events for some observers.
We covered the Juno roller coaster and events in July and December 2016 for those who want to catch up on the full history of this unfortunate and ongoing debacle:
Where does the latest Juno news leave things and what can we expect going forward?
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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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Some cancer conferences attract more questions and queries than others.
Old Town San Diego
Interestingly, ASH is always a popular meeting for attendees and readers alike, so it is good to see another batch of critical questions come in so soon after the last one. It’s a while since we did two BSB reader Q&A mailbags from a single meeting!
Not surprisingly, there were also a bunch of questions on CAR T cell therapies, which continue to dominate readers minds, as well as related issues. Here, we answer the most pressing questions that have come in over the last week.
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After regularly reporting here at BSB on several readouts in terms of antibodies and CARs since ASH last year, it’s reasonable to conclude now that there has been growing interest in BCMA–APRIL as a target in multiple myeloma (MM). The CAR T cell therapies have generally focused on BCMA or BCMA-TACI as a target, while antibody approaches such as Aduro’s, BION–1301, target APRIL.
T cells attacking a cancer cell
These new therapies have all been either preclinical in nature or preliminary phase 1 studies in a very limited number of patients, meaning that the best we can characterise them is that old reliable chestnut, ‘promising but early’… to do otherwise would be rather extravagant and hopeful at best.
Given the data from several CAR T cell therapy studies were being presented at two meetings on two separate continents only a few days apart, it makes sense to review them as a whole.
It’s therefore time for a detailed update, including a review of the differences in the key studies, a look at where we are now, as well as tips on what to look for going forward.
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This is an important and necessary follow-up to the ongoing Juno JCAR015 story in July after three patients had died due to complications associated with cerebral oedema. At that time, the company attributed the deaths to the inclusion of fludarabine in the lymphodepletion given prior to CAR T cell therapy infusion, leading to severe neurotoxicity, and clinical hold was lifted by FDA after the protocol was subsequently amended.
This morning came the dramatic announcement that following the protocol amendment, Juno has voluntarily placed the ROCKET trial on clinical hold again following another two deaths from cerebral oedema.
What gives and what are the consequences here?
We take a joint look at some of the issues that arise from this situation in terms of the CAR T cell therapy market and also pen thoughts from the analyst call this morning.
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It was only five years ago that the number of abstracts on CAR T cell therapies at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) ran to a dozen or less. Fast forward to 2016 and we now have tens of them, almost too many to count, let along review quickly and easily.
A scene from ASH 2015…
To give you an idea of the staggering speed of progress, in 2010 it took me less than half an hour to search and read all the CAR T cell abstracts, now it takes nearly a whole day to peruse and review them carefully.
We can’t resist a challenge…
As usual, we will write in more depth from the meeting as the data emerges in real time since many of the abstracts are often placeholders with updated information provided at the conference itself.
For now, here we provide an in-depth preview of the CAR T cell landscape in terms of the players, the products, new scientific research, biomarkers, emerging trends and more in a handy What to Watch For (W2W4) guide on key areas to expect at ASH to enable better enjoyment and awareness as the data rolls out next month.
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Late this afternoon, Juno Therapeutics ($JUNO) announced (link to press release) that the FDA had put a clinical hold on enrollment into a phase 2 trial of their JCAR015 construct in relapsed refractory acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) in adults in the ROCKET Trial: NCT02535364.
The decision by the FDA was as a result of three recent patient deaths reported to be due to neurotoxicity. In after-hours trading the stock dropped 30% from a market close of $40.82, reaching an after hours low at time of writing of $26.66 at 4.43pm ET.
In this post we look at what happened, the possible reasons behind it, and what it may mean for other CAR T companies. A leading CAR-T cell expert also provided BSB with some commentary after the news broke.
Good News: Post now updated following FDA lifting hold on ROCKET trial.
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I was thinking that the reader mailbag questions this week would be full of straightforward easy to answer clinical questions, after all, they usually are post ASH and ASCO… but not this year!
T-cells attacking a cancer cell. Digital illustration.
Instead, there is a huge wall of intense focus on CAR T cell therapies and the latest round of intriguing developments in this space. While CARs have received much attention, TCR cell products have largely flown under the radar to date, although that may change.
What’s particularly interesting is that these charges could potentially be transformative or absolute duds – it’s unlikely to be an indifferent middle ground here.
Here, we answer questions on the ever-increasingly complex science that is ongoing in the TCR and CAR T cell fields.
In the next mailbag, we will cover the clinical questions arising from data at ASCO, so if you have any queries on the data in Chicago, there’s still time to send them in before next Friday!
If you are interested in the new developments in the complex world of gene editing and how they may impact the ever-changing adoptive cell therapy space, then this article is for you. Subscribers can log-in below or you can click the Blue Box to nab instant access!
Dr Michel Sadelain at AACR 2016
Dr Michel Sadelain, Director of Cell Engineering at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York is a pioneer in the field of adoptive cell therapy.
Without his contribution, it is unlikely CAR T cell therapy would be where it is today.
He’s also President of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT), whose annual meeting is currently underway in Washington DC from May 4 to 7 (Twitter #ASGCT16).
Recently at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Dr Sadelain gave an outstanding presentation on turbo-charged CAR T cells, and shared some of his ideas on how to move the field forward.
In New Orleans, he also kindly spoke to BSB, and discussed how he thinks cell therapy researchers may obtain the “holy grail” of getting CAR T cell therapies to work effectively in solid tumors.
Dr Sadelin is someone who wants to break the immunology rules!
Not surprisingly, Dr Sadelain is optimistic and doesn’t share the view expressed by Dr Steven Rosenberg on CAR T cell therapies being limited to mostly hematologic malignancies when we interviewed him a year ago at last year’s ASGCT meeting. There’s nothing like a friendly controversy to spice the field up!
If you haven’t already done so, do listen to Dr Rosenberg on Episode 5 of the Novel Targets Podcast (@TargetsPodcast).
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