Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘anti-CTLA4’

SITC Day 3 Highlights

There were a couple of late breakers presented in the oral session yesterday that are worth discussing for several reasons, not least the controversy surrounding the stock action afterwards.

Dr Tara Gangadhar (U Penn) presented epacadostat, Incyte’s IDO1 inhibitor, in combination with pembrolizumab, Merck’s anti-PD1 inhibitor in a phase 1/2 trial with selected solid tumours.

Will combining these agents lead to better responses and outcomes than with pembrolizumab alone?

Dr Naiyer Rizvi (Moffitt) presented the combination data of AstraZeneca’s anti-PDL1 (durvalumab) plus anti-CTLA4 (tremelimumab) in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Neither of these agents have yet been approved in any indication, so the only relative comparators we have here are nivolumab and pembrolizumab as single agents in NSCLC and ipilimumab plus nivolumab in metastatic melanoma. There are no data approved for the BMS combo in lung cancer.

This review looks at both trials, in terms of the controversial data presented, and also in a broader context of the ever-changing landscape.

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We know from preclinical research that immunosuppressive tumour microenvironments can restrain anti-tumour immunity, thereby making subsequent therapeutic interventions less effective than expected. CD40 activation has been shown to reverse immune suppression and drive antitumor T cell responses, which in turn could lead to potentially better outcomes.

What happens when patients with advanced melanoma are given a checkpoint inhibitor plus an immune agonist such as anti-CD40?

Can we help the non-responding patients to checkpoint blockade improve their outcomes and shift the long tail in survival curves up using this approach?

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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.

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“Nothing lasts forever, because nothing ever has.”

James Shelley, The Caesura Letters

This year’s annual AACR meeting was so good, we could probably write another 50 posts and still not be done! With ASCO fast approaching, however, it’s almost time to draw it to a close and the final post conference note will be published on Monday.

Today is the penultimate report and focuses on the key highlights that caught my attention in immuno-oncology, which covers the gamut from checkpoint inhibitors, co-stimulants, innate immunotherapy and CAR T cell therapy to bispecific antibody TCRs.

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Sometimes timing can be amusing when writing up data and conferences. Yesterday, while writing about the immuno-oncology developments in renal cell cancer (RCC), I was putting a table of the trials together and absent mindedly noticed that Merck didn’t have much going in this indication compared to BMS and Roche/Genentech.

Oddly, the company fixed that this morning with their announcement that they are expanding their combinations and collaborations for the anti-PD–1 antibody, MK–3475. One of the new trials includes a partnership with Pfizer for axitinib (Inlyta), enabling them to study a PD–1 + VEGF combination in RCC. The table in yesterday’s thought piece has now been updated to include this trial, although it is in the planning stage at present.

Today, I want to switch horses a little bit and talk about another immuno-oncology therapy, namely, ipilimumab (Yervoy).  Dr Charles Drake (Johns Hopkins) presented an update on the post chemotherapy trial (CA184–083) in CRPC at ASCO GU this weekend, which we wrote about from ESMO last Fall when the data was first presented (see here).  What’s interesting is that the trial, although negative, only just missed its endpoint.

Last week I came across some interesting new developments relating to ipilimumab that are well worth discussing here, particularly in relation to biomarkers, as they may have significant implications for the drug clinically.

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Immuno-oncology is fast becoming one of the hottest topics in cancer research following the approval of the anti-CTLA4 checkpoint antibody, ipilimumab, in advanced melanoma, as well as emerging solid data from anti-PD-1 and PD-L1 antibodies in melanoma, lung and renal cancer at ASCO in June.

The big question on many people’s minds though, is what other checkpoint inhibitors are out there and can they safely be used either as single agents or in combination with the above agents, or even with existing standard of care combinations (chemotherapy and targeted therapies)?

I have long argued that what will really make a difference in this space is combinations and the ability of sponsors to successfully evaluate novel-novel agents in clinical trials. After all, BMS have a huge advantage with ipilimumab and the ability to combine it with their PD-1 or other immunotherapeutics, since their rivals will be greatly hampered by the $120K per person price tag for the commercial drug required as part of clinical trial costs.

This means most companies in this space are looking at other options in the search for better outcomes.

At the AACR-NCI-EORTC Molecular Targets conference in Boston this week, the last day was devoted to two sessions in immune-oncology and one of the plenary sessions included Dr Susan Topalian discussing an update on nivolumab and anti-PD-1/L1 therapies post ASCO. There was also ample opportunity to discuss immunotherapy with the many attendees in the busy poster sessions.

The first immunotherapy session on Weds morning particularly caught my attention and it seems a good opportunity to summarize some of the key observations emerging in this field. Here are my detailed notes from the session, which raise a lot of fascinating questions from the presenters about this field and – more importantly – where it’s going:

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