Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘ASCO’


For many years, scientists have tried – and failed – to develop techniques to activate the body’s immune system against cancer. The majority of these immunotherapy approaches, especially vaccines, simply didn’t have enough potency, or were based on a weak target that had little impact on advanced disease. The rationale for vaccines in cancer prevention is much stronger, as we have seen with the HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, for example. When given to patients with advanced disease, the large tumour burden is usually too much for them to overcome and the cancer wins.

Although the immunotherapy field in oncology has been largely a graveyard with millions of dollars wasted and lost, there have been some notable successes. US approvals include rituximab (and other similar CD20 targeted antibodies) in B-cell malignancies, the IMiDs (thalidomide, lenalidomide, pomalidomide) in multiple myeloma, and ipilimumab, a human cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA4) antibody in metastatic melanoma.

There are several interesting challenges with immunotherapies that must be overcome before successful therapeutics can be developed – Subscribers to Premium Content can login to read more below:

It’s hard to believe that the countdown to the 2011 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is now underway, but yesterday at 6pm, the ASCO abstracts were released.

Oliver Sartor at the recent annual meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA) highlighted the prostate cancer potential of cabozantinib (XL184), an oral inhibitor of MET and VEGF kinases, so it was interesting to see that new data will be presented at ASCO.

What makes cabozantinib interesting?

The preliminary data shows that it not only has an anti-tumor effect, but also has an effect on bone metabolism.

The data presented at EORTC last year and at ASCO GU this year confirms what was seen in animal models, in that it had both an anti-metastatic effect on soft tissue and blockade of bone lesions.  Such dual action on both bone mets and the tumor microenvironment makes it an exciting new compound in prostate cancer.

By all accounts, the novel effect of cabozantinib on bone mets is unexpected.

At the forthcoming ASCO meeting, abstract 3010, whose lead author is Dr Michael Gordon of Pinnacle Oncology Hematology in Scottsdale, AZ  will present data on:

“Activity of cabozantinib (XL184) in soft tissue and bone: Results of a phase II randomized discontinuation trial (RDT) in patients (pts) with advanced solid tumors.”

According to Dr Gordon in the ASCO press teleconference yesterday, the phase II data at ASCO for cabozantinib in prostate cancer will show:

Complete or partial bone scan resolution in majority of patients (86%), often accompanied by pain relief

Unprecedented bone scan improvement

On the basis of these promising results, according to Dr Gordon, “Exelixis plans to initiate the first pivotal trial in prostate cancer by the end of 2011.

It will be interesting to see whether cabozantinib can impact overall survival (OS) in advanced prostate cancer, something that denosumab (Xgeva®) failed to show in the 147 trial that was just presented at AUA.

There are several abstracts on cabozantinib at the ASCO 2011 annual meeting. Another one that caught my attention was abstract 4516, whose lead author is Maha Hussein of the University of Michigan.

Dr Hussein will present data on cabozantinib in metastatic castrate resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). The abstract’s conclusion is that:

Cabo showed clinical activity regardless of prior D in mCPRC pts, particularly in pts with bone disease, as reflected by high rates of b-scan resolution and pain relief, in addition to improvements in Hb and tumor regression.

I’ll be at ASCO in a few weeks time, so look forward to hearing more detail on the cabozantinib results.  The data is still very preliminary, but cabozantinib (XL184) is certainly a drug to watch, and may be an exciting new prostate cancer drug in the future.


Following on from yesterday’s news that Gilead had acquired Calistoga and CAL-101, another company that is exploring the interface between cancer and inflammation is Paris based AB Science.

Pharma Strategy Blog has an excellent interview with the CEO, Alain Moussy.  AB Science is an emerging French biopharmaceutical company, and I previously wrote about its IPO.

The company has adopted a unique market entry strategy of obtaining approval first in animal health for their tyrosine kinase inhibitor, masitinib.  In 2008, AB Science gained European approval for canine mast cell tumors and in December 2010 FDA approval.

The company recently announced that on February 8, 2011 it had its first US sale of masitinib to vets.

Masitinib is in fact a multi-kinase inhibitor that inhibits wild type and mutant forms of stem cell factor receptor (c-KIT, SCFR), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGFR), fibroblast growth factor 3 (FGFR3) and to a lesser degree, focal adhesion kinase (FAK).

Sally Church on the Pharma Strategy Blog has written about how AB Science’s strategy makes sense – if you look at Pfizer, they obtain more revenue from animal health than they do from oncology.  AB Sciences’ Masivet® in Europe, Kinavet® in the United States competes against Pfizer animal health’s tyrosine kinase inhibitor, Palladia® (toceranib), which also targets mast cell cancer in dogs.

Not only does this growth strategy generate revenue for an early-stage company like AB Science, it also allows the company to build a sales and marketing infrastructure in the United States and Europe while waiting for the results of pivotal phase 3 studies in humans.

The phase 2 clinical trial data for masitinib in combination with gemcitabine in pancreatic cancer were impressive (28% survival at 18 months).  The phase 3 clinical trial results are expected this year.  The listing shows the date for the estimated primary completion date (Overall Survival) as November 2010 with study completion in November 2011.  Obviously the exact timing depends on how fast subjects were accrued, but I would be surprised if we didn’t see some data presented at ASCO or ESMO, especially if positive.

In terms of targeting inflammation, masitinib is in phase III development for mastocytosis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and asthma.  AB Science announced on January 27, 2011 the first patient recruited into their phase 3 study in severe asthma.

The company’s new product development strategy is way ahead of many of its competitors in identifying the links between cancer and inflammation, and choosing to target market opportunities in both areas.

AB Science is an exciting company to watch, and I expect that we will see important new data come out at major scientific meetings this year.

I recently attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) in Orlando so thought I would share my general impressions (in no particular order):

Convention Center Food was Poor:

The food at the Orange County Convention Center reminded me of an airport – desperate choices, poor quality and overpriced.  As for no Starbucks or decent coffee shop, civilization has yet to reach Orlando! The Peabody hotel across the road had coffee shops that offered a $3 single espresso shot, but they ran out of pods on the Monday morning – faced with the overwhelming demand that seems to have not been anticipated!  Memo to Starbucks – look into a convention center franchise.

Cramming all the science in one day doesn’t work:

People go to a meeting such as ASH for many reasons – networking, business development, education, investigator meetings, but in the end, it is a scientific meeting.  The meeting ran from Saturday to Tuesday, yet nearly all the oral scientific program (biology and therapy) was crammed into one day of simultaneous sessions on the Monday – tough if you wanted to cover a product or pathway that targeted multiple therapeutic areas, many of which ran at the same time.

The Poster hall was like a graveyard:

You can tell I didn’t think this was a great meeting. Every time I went into the aircraft like hangar where the posters were housed, I ended up chilled to the bone. It certainly didn’t encourage spending much time there, and I was disappointed that a surprisingly high number of presenters did not attend the poster presentation receptions, when they were supposed to be available to answer questions.  Nobody seemed to check if anybody showed up, to me the whole point of a poster is being able to discuss it.

Why not publish the slides from the oral science presentations?

ASH, unlike ASCO does not make the slides of oral scientific presentations available online, so if you didn’t make notes, or break the rules (and risk being ejected) by taking an illegal picture on your phone or camera, then you missed it.  Abstracts are often submitted months in advance before the final data is analyzed, so by not making the slides available after the meeting, science to me is being hampered especially given the overlap of sessions on the Monday.  If an abstract is presented and published, the scientific information should be available to be shared. Isn’t that what science is about?  ASCO have it right, their virtual meeting program is outstanding.

Hospitality lives on – but only if you are an international doctor:

US doctors attending their annual meeting, are warned not to accept a free cup of coffee at an exhibitor booth if their state or employer prohibits the acceptance of such “gifts”, while foreign physician attendees are wined and dined.  You see signs for hospitality centers for European doctors or desks in hotels for company sponsored groups of foreign doctors – hard to believe there’s ethically not something wrong with these double standards.

A lack of quality educational materials:

While the free pen and notepad have long since gone the way of the dinosaur, this year there was noticeably fewer educational material to take away.  The debate as to whether doctors should pay for their own CME continues, but I do think many in the industry miss the opportunity by not providing educational material on the science, pathways and mechanism of action of new products.

The “Super Friday” is still alive:

Multiple industry sponsored satellite symposia (AKA “Super Friday” sessions) took place before ASH, with several at the Peabody Hotel. I have to say the food at the one I attended on personalized medicine was excellent, one of my best meals in Orlando.  They are not cheap to run: not only do 800-1000 people get fed, but a hotel room with audio-visual equipment has to be hired, a panel of experts are paid to talk about a topic, and many of the attendees come away with a glossy brochure.  Could this money be better spent elsewhere?  ASH has a large education component to it, and it was interesting to note that what the ASH education program committee chose as important topics to talk about and what the industry chose, were pretty different.  That is perhaps not surprising – after all if you choose the topic of the satellite symposia and it’s of relevance to your product, indirectly you are trying to influence prescribing behavior, otherwise why else would you fund it?  There is no such thing as a free lunch or dinner.

Multiple Myeloma was a hot topic:

There was a lot of interest in clinical trial results in MM.  The use of a maintenance therapy, and attempt to turn this into a chronic disease was a widely discussed topic, however many old drugs such as thalidomide have nasty side effect profiles such as peripheral neuropathy, while newer drugs such as lenalidomide are expensive but appear to only incrementally increase survival.  Results from multiple combinations of drugs and induction therapies were presented, I was left with the impression that although there is progress, there is still no major breakthrough in this disease area.

Nobody wants to talk about cost effectiveness:

The 800 lb gorilla in the room for hematology/oncology is the comparative effectiveness of one treatment versus another i.e. it’s cost/benefit, yet nobody wants to talk about it.  Take for example the treatment of CML, should you treat with imatinib (Gleevec) which has outstanding long-term survival data over several years thanks to the IRIS trial, or use a second-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) such as dasatinib or nilotinib that is around twice the price, more potent and slightly more effective but obviously we don’t yet know if it improves 5 or 10 year survival yet over imatinib.  Nobody wanted to talk about price – physicians currently live in an ivory tower.

If you are interested in information on what the hot scientific news was at ASH, then I encourage you to look at the excellent posts (here & here) published by my colleague on Pharma Strategy Blog.

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