Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘AstraZeneca’

It amuses me to realise that I’ve been writing about and following PARP inhibition since 2006 or so, when the field was in that twilight zone of early drug development between preclinical and clinical, thus just beginning to hit some sort of consciousness and broader interest in cancer research.

The AACR Molecular Targets meeting in 2009 was the first scientific meeting I covered as a science writer on the old Pharma Strategy Blog, which focused on early drug development from preclinical to phase 2 – after that I would rapidly lose interest and move on to the next new shiny scientific lure to research and discuss. No doubt this eager new writer ran about like an overenthusiastic little puppy in the poster halls chatting to scientists about their research, much to the amusement of the more staid press room, who at that time probably never ventured out of the darkened basement gloom.

In one of the press briefings there, I met an engaging and thoughtful scientist who was presenting his poster on PARP and synthetic lethality. He kindly took the time to explain in plain English a commonsense analogy that was most helpful for grasping complex concepts. Having sat through several long talks from luminaries in the field such as Drs Hillary Calvert and Alan Ashworth that covered double strand breaks and DNA repair mechanisms, it was a most welcome respite in the hurly burly of the conference!

Imagine his imagery…

You have a four legged coffee table or wooden chair and one of the legs breaks off or is damaged. The table remains standing, albeit less stable than before. Now a second leg breaks, and inevitably, the table is so unstable that it falls over.

Once you grasp that simple analogy for synthetic lethality, you have the basic idea of DNA double strand breaks and how inefficient repair can lead to vulnerabilities in the tumour that can be exploited.

The scientist I spoke to in Boston back in 2009 was Dr Mark O’Connor.

He was involved in DNA damage response research at a little known private company in Cambridge, UK called KuDos, who were subsequently acquired by AstraZeneca. Nearly a decade on and Dr O’Connor is still at the company; he now heads up their DNA damage response area.

Dr Mark O’Connor, AZN

With olaparib (Lynparza) since approved by the FDA in ovarian cancer and slated for the ASCO 2017 plenary session for HER2- breast cancer, things have certainly changed a lot since those early heady days of KuDos and the R&D journey has not been without its notable ups and downs along the way.

In Chicago earlier this month, I had the pleasure of catching up again with Dr O’Connor to learn more about the journey, and importantly, where things are going next.  It’s quite an interesting roller coaster ride, to be sure!

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Over the years we’ve interviewed folks from numerous pharma and biotech companies here on BSB, including those with targeted therapies (small and large), as well as immunotherapies.

Some companies have small pipelines and may be forced by circumstances to explore what they have or seek collaborations with bigger partners.

For big pharmas with large pockets plus broad and deeper pipelines, the challenge is quite different – how do you prioritise potential combinations and tumour targets given it is impossible to evaluate them all in the clinic? How do you create differential advantage and value when you’re relatively later to market compared to your competitors?

In the BSB spotlight this week we have two researchers in clinical development and R&D from the same company, who happen to have both elements in their pipeline in areas of high competition.

Part one of our latest mini-series explores the IO side of the business as we look ‘Through the Keyhole’ at what’s going on in terms of biomarkers, monotherapy trials, combination studies (both IO-IO and IO-targeted) and what to expect in the near-term future later this year. It’s a wide ranging, candid, and fascinating discussion that highlights a lot of potential in terms of what could happen with a large pipeline.

In all, it makes for rather interesting reading and certainly changed how I perceived the company’s efforts in the IO sphere (for the better, I might add).  So what’s fascinating about their approach and what can we learn from their progress to date?

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Today we continue the second of a two part interview with a global thought leader who is also a scientist-clinician and well versed in cancer research as well as clinical trials.

Old Town Hall, Munchen

We explore how we can do clinical trials better in order to learn via a more rigorous process what works, what doesn’t, and why. After all, we we don’t know why certain approaches didn’t work or what the mechanisms of resistance are, how can we possibly improve?

Randomness is not necessarily a good thing in clinical research, especially if you don’t know what target you’re actually trying to hit!

If you missed the first part of this latest KOL interview and want to catch up then you can find it here (Link).

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Part 3 of our series on Gems from the Poster Halls at ESMO continues with a look at another four important combination studies that may be of keen interest to readers.

These include both targeted therapies as well as immunotherapies.

Some of the posters I was originally keen to write about turned out a little unexpectedly with some issues to address i.e. lack of efficacy or unwanted toxicities based on the dosing schedule used and may require tweaking of the dosing, schedule or trial design. Others will unfortunately be destined for dog drug heaven unless a new tumour type offers more promise. Such is the R&D roller coaster that is oncology – sometimes we forget that more compounds fail than make it market.

The good news is that there were plenty of promising approaches that are worthy of writing up and discussing. In the third part of our poster mini-series, we take another deeper dive with a careful look at some new data in Copenhagen.

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One of the surprise controversies at ESMO16 was the fall-out between Myriad Genetics (NASDAQ: MYGN) and Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO) over whether the company’s PARP inhibitor, niraparib, should require a companion diagnostic for the treatment of women with platinum-sensitive ovarian cancer in the maintenance setting. We previously wrote about this from Copenhagen (Link).

christianhavn

Christianhavn

Tesaro were so keen on controlling their message, in the run-up to ESMO, they even went to the trouble of taking out a legal injunction against Myriad Genetics in an attempt to prevent them publishing their own press release discussing the niraparib data.

We knew about this “off the record” at ESMO, but it’s now a matter of public knowledge and John Carroll admirably reported the story on Endpoints last week (Link).

It is a sad reflection on any biotech partnership or pharma alliance if you can’t reach an agreement in private, and have to resort to an injunction in US Federal Court. Doubly unfortunate when you lose the injunction too!

As many readers are already aware, back in June 2014 AstraZeneca failed to convince an FDA ODAC about the merits of olaparib in the same indication that Tesaro are seeking. This is why the data for Tesaro and their regulatory/commercial approach justifies careful scrutiny.

What’s more, data from Myriad Genetics was key to AstraZeneca obtaining a subsequent indication for olaparib in more advanced ovarian cancer, so their experience in this space cannot be dismissed.

dr-johnathan-lancaster

Johnathan M. Lancaster MD PhD

At ESMO, the Myriad Genetics Laboratory Chief Medical Officer, Dr Johnathan Lancaster kindly spoke to BSB.

He shared his perspective on the niraparib data and why a companion diagnostic should be considered based on the NOVA trial data presented by Dr Mansoor Mirza. You can read more about the data in The NEJM paper that was published simultaneously (Link).

Dr Lancaster was formerly Director of the Center for Women’s Oncology, and Chair of the Department of Women’s Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

While he does bring a corporate bias based on his position at Myriad Genetics Laboratories – and Myriad clearly have a vested interest in selling diagnostic tests – his clinical perspective is worthy of consideration and it’s one that is shared by other GYN oncology thought leaders we have spoken to (see: earlier post, “what Tesaro aren’t telling you about niraparib”).

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The 2016 Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) is fast approaching. It takes place next month from October 7th to 11th and we will be on site covering the meeting for Biotech Strategy Blog. We’re looking forward to a great meeting!

ESMO 2016 CongressIf you are sitting on the fence as to whether you should go to Copenhagen, then hopefully our series of Previews will help you decide.

Be warned that accommodation is in already in short supply and ESMO are now putting people up across the Oresund bridge in Malmo, Sweden.

The Congress App has a lot of useful information and is well worth downloading, if you haven’t done so already.

Last week many of the late breaking abstract (LBA) titles were announced, although there are still some placeholders. While we won’t know the actual late-breaking data until the meeting, the LBA titles offer insights into what will be presented in Copenhagen.

In the second in our ESMO 2016 Preview series, we’re highlighting the lung cancer late breakers that we’re looking forward to hearing, providing some background on why they may be of interest, and a look at how some of subset landscapes may be a-changing in the future.

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September 1st… as the hot summer floats away from London town and cooler autumn days draw in, it’s time to think about the upcoming fall cancer conference season – it’s quite a busy one this year!

In the coming weeks, I will be rolling out our series on the ESMO 2016 Previews (Twitter #ESMO16) and taking a more in-depth look at various topics of interest. The Copenhagen meeting is later than usual and also more compressed, with numerous sessions now held simultaneously. It used to be that you could take a break between key sessions, but not any more – there’s a lot going on this year.

View of Thames BarrierOne of the things that jumped out to me from a preliminary review of this year’s hectic ESMO program is an interesting novel target that had some early preclinical data at AACR, but that sadly got lost in the tsunami of data there.

It is good to have that reminder and be able to return to it in the context of broader data because overcoming barriers to drug resistance with targeted therapies is still an important issue that is worth researching.

You likely won’t see it in many analyst reports or previews, however, although it’s a hidden gem of great interest and well worth exploring in terms of what we know so far. This means that readers will be both prepared and intrigued – don’t be surprised to hear about some BD&L deals in this niche in the future.

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After a long lull on the targeted therapies front – outside of EGFR T790M in lung cancer – this year’s ASCO has plenty to be cheerful about with new data across multiple tumour types.  We can’t cover them all here, but more will be discussed in the Daily Live Blogs starting on Saturday.

Which drugs are going to be in roaring back after a quiet period?  Which ones will be having a more muted meeting?

ASCO16 Chicago 4For those of you who are working in the targeting therapy world, take heart, there is a future beyond cancer immunotherapy; it is not the universal panacea and will likely not cure every cancer, at least for now.

There’s still a market opportunity for targeted therapies in cancer, and as we mentioned in yesterday’s ASCO Preview, there is also potential for the combination of targeted therapies with immunotherapies, so long as the combined toxicity is manageable and doesn’t outweigh the benefits.

In this post we’re looking at a selection of targeted therapies in a variety of tumour types. There’s a lot to choose from at ASCO this year.

Here’s a few we think are worth highlighting upfront.

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For years we’ve followed the trials and tribulations of targeted therapies seeing many approved and quite a few disappear forlornly (and officially) off to dog drug heaven. Many more sit in no-man’s land as companies eagerly wait in a holding pattern for other trial readouts in different tumour types. Sadly, sometimes these studies don’t generate enough compelling data either. With so much competition about, there are no shortcuts or low-hanging fruit in biotech or cancer drug development any more.

ASCO16 Chicago 1

En route to Chicago and ASCO!

Then along came antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), with some encouraging results in a range of cancers in both solid tumours and hematologic malignancies that lead to the approval of several new therapies.

After that, the next big advance was immunotherapies, specifically checkpoint blockade, with encouraging single agent activity in melanoma, lung, and even urothelial bladder cancer. We’ve also seen the promise fo combining two different checkpoints such as nivolumab and ipilimumab together in metastatic melanoma, albeit with an increase in toxicities.

This is all very well and good, although the challenge remains that the majority of patients either respond to therapy and relapse, or do not respond at all, depending on the circumstances, the tumour type and the regimen. We still have a long way to go in moving the needle and creating a new paradigm shift on a broad scale.

So what happens when we start to combine modalities – such as targeted therapies with immunotherapies?

Uh-oh, I hear the distant cries of disagreement erupt…

  • Remember vemurafenib plus ipilimumab in metastatic melanoma was scuppered by severe hepatitis?
  • What about osimertinib plus durvalumab in NSCLC and the increased incidence of ILD?

Both of these statements are true, and yet… we should not assume that all mixed therapy combination approaches are doomed on the basis of a mere n of 2. What happens if some are synergistic or additive? What happens of there are hidden gems that teach us new ways of doing things rather than doing the same old thing just because it’s always been done that way?

With this in mind, I’d like to open the door on our first ASCO 2016 Preview series with a look at novel combination approaches in development that caught my eye.

What are the early hints and signals that we can learn from the data? Which companies are evaluating imaginative new ideas that may turn the tables on traditional thinking?  The ideas discussed here may well surprise a few people.

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The BET Bromodomain market is a meaty epigenetics topic we have followed for several years now, including a look at the space back in 2013 on the old Pharma Strategy Blog (Link). The last update on this was ironically at AACR last year when we discussed MYC and bromodomains (Link).

Nawlins Mardi GrasIn a remarkable tale of two cities in real life, two companies we discussed in those posts – Constellation Pharma and Tensha Therapeutics – have had markedly different fortunes since then. Roche decided to end their collaboration with the former and went on to acquire the latter instead.

Since we first wrote about bromodomains and BET inhibitors, the niche has exploded in a wildly stunning way… More drugs in the pipeline, more tumour targets being explored, and even novel combinations being evaluated preclinically for synergistic or additive effects. Even I was surprised by how competitive this niche has become based on the offerings at AACR this year.

With all the wealth of new data at the AACR annual meeting and also some other recent presentations I’ve attended elsewhere, it’s time for a more in-depth look at the BET/Bromodomain landscape.

Who are the new players, which tumour targets are now being evaluated, which combinations might be useful?

A word to the wise – this is neither a nerdy science post nor a comprehensive literature review – instead we take a look at the emerging landscape from a new product development perspective.

Science has been absolutely critical to success in all of the cancer therapeutics from targeted therapies to immunotherapies that have emerged in the last decade.

It really doesn’t matter whether you come from a marketing and commercial organisation or the investment community – if you want to make great decisions, you need to understand the basics of the science underpinning the R&D, where the strengths and weaknesses are. The alternative is play Roulette and put everything on Black 11 as a euphemism for whichever company/product/target you have an interest in.

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