Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘AACR 2015 Annual Meeting’

Over the last decade we have seen some real progress with some subsets of lung cancer, particularly in EGFR mutated and ALK translocated tumours.  Indeed, an incredible amount of translational work has emanated from just a few groups based in Boston, New York and Hong Kong.

Dr Jeff Engelman Source: MGH

Dr Jeff Engelman Source: MGH

At AACR earlier this year, Dr Jeffrey Engelman (MGH, Boston) gave a fantastic talk not just about heterogeneity, resistance mechanisms, but also on how lung cancer can transform. Included in his review was the role of biospies and how he sees those evolving.

I’ve been meaning to write up this important talk since April, but decided to wait until the key publications that were in press at the time were actually published – it was a longer wait than expected!

In general, it is our policy to write up published, rather than unpublished data, out of respect to researchers.  It also makes it more useful to readers when the translational and clinical data is publicly available for those interested in reading the in-depth research articles.  We also gathered commentary from other though leaders in the lung cancer space for some additional insights.

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Have you ever sat in a freezing cold scientific session and been so engrossed in the compelling presentations that followed, you simply forgot to take notes? Not one. That actually happened to me at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Philadelphia this year in one of the many fringe sessions that I attended.

Reading Terminal Clock

Reading Terminal Clock, Philadelphia

Granted, the hot topic of the conference was undoubtedly checkpoint inhibition, but I was anxious to escape to the comfort of some meaty and familiar basic and translational science, namely MYC.  MYC is largely thought to be a difficult to target, even undruggable protein, and along with RAS and p53, represents a formidable challenge for cancer researchers.  These three oncogenic proteins alone are probably responsible for more drug resistance developing and even death from cancer than any other proteins in a patient with advanced disease.

For cancer patients with advanced disease, the clock is ticking on time they have left.

Solve these three problems (MYC, RAS and p53) and we may have a shot at dramatically improving outcomes. As Dr Gerard Evans (Cambridge) noted:

“I think it’s fair to say that we don’t really know why interruption of any oncogenic signal actually kills cancer cells, but one of the reasons that we’re interested in MYC is because it seems to be a common downstream effector of many, maybe all cancers.”

Sure, the road to success is paved with an enormous graveyard of failures, just as metastatic melanoma was before checkpoint blockade came along, ironically.  What I heard at AACR both inspired and filled me with greater confidence… we’re finally getting somewhere.

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One of the obvious learnings from the American Association of Clinical Research (AACR) meeting earlier this week was that we are coming to the end of the low hanging fruit opportunities for checkpoint inhibitors as monotherapies.

Speaking with numerous company people in this space, there was wide consensus on that point. As one clinical lead put it succinctly, “From here on out, it’s going to get way more complicated – had a low grade headache develop after the very first science session I attended – and it’s still there after two days!”

How many of us know that feeling all too well?  AACR always has the heaviest science load of any cancer conference we attend each year. Sure there’s some nice clinical data, but that is like nibbling on the light appetizers before the 20 course banquet. You need much stamina and fortitude to survive the brain fog at AACR. Then there’s the glee at snagging some key poster handouts at the meeting, only to be rapidly diminished when you try to read the 4pt print post hoc and realise your eyes cannot focus easily.

Looking at the long list of topics I want to cover in the in-depth post meeting analysis for a ‘lighter’ post, especially given that it’s Friday after a very long week, that sinking feeling hit home hard – there are no lightweight topics at AACR.

The other day, we posted about the promising data in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), following on from the Genentech and Merck presentations at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS). These data surprised many folks, mostly because they didn’t consider breast cancer to be an immunogenic tumour – nor is lung cancer in the broader scheme of things for that matter – yet we are seeing some nice durable responses in both tumour types with checkpoint inhibitors.

In other words, our definition and perceptions must change as we redefine how we identify and think of possible ‘responsive’ cancers to these agents.

So where are likely heading next?

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Quick Reminder: Today is the last day for the AACR Special – the discount ends at midnight ET tonight. We may not offer this rate again as it’s a limited time only deal!

Recently, Merck have been on a roll in the immuno-oncology space, with the announcement that their anti-PD–1 antibody, pembrolizumab (Keytruda), beat out BMS’s anti-CTLA4 antibody, ipilimumab (Yervoy) in a Phase 3 head-to-head frontline trial in metastatic melanoma. The two primary endpoints of OS and PFS were met and the trial will therefore be stopped early based on the IDMC recommendation. No further details are available until the presentation.

merck_logoThe data from the KEYNOTE–006 study is being presented at the annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) next month in the opening plenary session by Dr Antoni Ribas (UCLA).

While it’s nice to see evidence that one checkpoint inhibitor is potentially superior to another, in the long run, combinations are likely to be the best way forward.  This approach is more likely to yield improved responses in immunogenic tumours, but also to make non-immunogenic tumours more responsive, thereby improving patient outcomes further.

This begs the all important question – what hints from new emerging data can we glean that will help us figure out novel combination approaches with checkpoint inhibitors?

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Some really intriguing news was announced this morning, with Aduro Biotech issuing a press release on their new global collaboration with Novartis for their “immuno-oncology products derived from its proprietary STING-targeted CDN platform technology.”

Many readers will recall Aduro for its program that inserts genetically engineered lysteria into therapeutics aka the LADD regimen. The lead program, CRS–207, in combination with GVAX Pancreas in pancreatic cancer previously received Breakthrough Therapy designation from the FDA. Their scientific advisers include Drew Pardoll and Frank McCormick, who are immunotherapy and protein pathway specialists, respectively.

The collaboration with Novartis is for a completely different platform based on cyclic dinucleotides (CDNs), which are small molecules that are naturally expressed by bacteria and immune cells and have been recently shown to activate the STING (Stimulator of Interferon Genes) signaling pathway in immune cells.

So what’s the significance of this exciting deal and why does it matter?

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One of my favourite meetings of the year in our conference calendar is the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting, which is held in the spring. In years past, the agenda at this event has set the scene for the rest of the year in terms of emerging new trends, particularly with regards to targeted therapies. In the last two years though, this hasn’t been the case, as adjusting to the brave new world of immunotherapies has taken some time.

The good news is that AACR has come roaring back in 2015 with a star-studded line-up that includes some of the big hitters and sluggers in the cancer immunology space.

What’s in store for this year, you may well be wondering, and where are we likely to see the new trends evolve?

We took an in-depth look at what’s hot in immunotherapies and where the new directions are going in this latest conference preview, the first one in series relating to the AACR annual meeting being held in Philadelphia from April 18–22nd (Twitter #AACR15).

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