Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie
With a series of inconsistent results involving phase 3 trials involving checkpoint antibody therapy, even in similar indications, it’s time to get down and dirty and look at some of the factors that might be influencing the outcomes since three of the five approved anti-PD(L)1 products have now been similarly affected.
It’s an interesting and intriguing conundrum, to be sure…
Instead of obeying traffic rules, with immune checkpoints maybe we need to consider following immunology rules instead 🙂
The potential hidden answers, however, might be surprising to some readers.
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Back in January this year, we posted an early look on what to expect from the evolving 1L NSCLC landscape following the controversial FDA submission of Merck’s pembrolizumab with chemotherapy. This lead to subsequent approval in May.
Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin July 2017
At that time, quite a few people were shocked and surprised that the phase 2 KEYNOTE–021 Cohort G data presented ESMO was neatly parlayed into accelerated approval in the US.
Since then, a lot has happened and now many readers are on tenterhooks as we await the next round of lung cancer trial results in the upfront setting.
First up is AstraZeneca’s MYSTIC trial exploring an IO-IO combination with durvalumab plus tremelimumab. Merck’s confirmatory trial for pembrolizumab plus chemo is also expected in the fall – will it support the accelarated approval – or not? Meanwhile, we also await Roche/Genentech’s IMpower150 study evaluating their checkpoint inhibitor, atezolizumab, in combination with chemotherapy by the year end.
These are quite different strategies with diverse endpoints so following them closely will be key to understanding what happens next. Based on what we’ve seen in lung cancer to date, the roller coaster looks set to continue. The C-suite shenanigans have only added to the intrigue and mystique – do they mean anything? Who knows, but we’re focusing on the hard data i.e. science and the clinical clues that are available.
It’s all to play for and many readers wrote in asking for an update on the landscape and what to expect now that we’re much nearer to the shoes actually dropping.
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As we start to see early readouts from new IO combos and also new trials emerge to begin enrolling patients, it’s going to be intriguing to see how the new cancer immunotherapy landscape evolves.
Some of these trials will be random in that the drugs are what the company has, others will be based on existing or new collaborations, while others will be based on rationally based science… not all will be successful, though.
Of course, it’s easy for all of us to be an armchair critic and grumble about the flaws, the problems, and even the weaknesses in clinical trials, but what about rational approaches that attempt to scientifically address the acquired resistance that develops on montherapies?
Here’s one approach I really like – we’ve written about the underlying biology behind it previously, but what about the clinical trials, and what does the company evaluating the combos think?
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Until recently, we followed the race to market in EGFR T790M lung cancer with Clovis’s rociletinib and AstraZeneca’s osimertinib (Tagrisso). In phase 2, AstraZeneca caused quite a stir when they came from behind and leapfrogged their biotech rival with a large global randomized controlled trial seemingly out of nowhere. They never looked back.
Can they do the same thing with durvalumab (Imfinzi), one of their IO therapies that targets PD-L1?
If there’s one thing that many astute observers of the IO space have learned this week it’s that irrational exuberance and the hopeful sentiment that ‘everything’ will just tweak the immune system and work positively no matter what has thankfully come to an end.
We’ve seen several highs and lows already with Merck’s pembrolizumab gaining accelerated approval in 1L NSCLC in allcomers when combined with chemotherapy and AstraZeneca reporting positive phase 3 data for durvalumab in unresectable (stage 3) NSCLC based on meeting the study endpoint (PFS).
There is much to be learned because the nivolumab disaster in 1L NSCLC last year was not a singular aberration given that durvalumab has seen some missteps in the past and even atezolizumab had some unexpected news with urothelial cancer this week (Check out our insights), as compared to chemo in the second line setting. Just like mutations, there will be many more to come, perhaps even some additional ones before the year is out.
What about today’s news from AstraZeneca in unresectable NSCLC?
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We’re overdue a roundup and discussion on various key topics of interest to BSB readers, so here goes…
Today’s topics include an in-depth look at the impact of some negative events:
- Kite and the cerebral oedema death with axi-cel
- Genentech’s atezolizumab OS miss in urothelial cancer
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We’ve been saying for a while that 2017 and onwards would be when we start to see a few IO combination trials start to shake out. Interestingly, that process seems to have already started, if recent news is any thing to go by.
With this in mind, the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) coming up this weekend gives us a timely moment to explore combinations that are looking interesting… or not.
In the last of our AACR 2017 Conference Previews, we take a look at what to expect on this year’s program in the IO and Checkpoint arena. In short, it’s quite a lot and not without some controversy either!
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There’s no secret or surprise with our latest AACR Preview as this week the focus takes a slight turns or detour to the annual meeting of the Society for Gynecology Oncology being held in National Harbor, Maryland.
PARP inhibitors in ovarian cancer have been a hot topic since last autumn when the PARP inhibitor data dropped at ESMO in Copenhagen, and was not without controversy either.
We’ve been following the trials, tribulations and even machinations, of the clinical development of olaparib, rucaparib and niraparib for a while now so what’s in store in the latest round of salvoes?
And importantly, what else can we expect to see in DC at AACR next month?
For a tumour type that hasn’t received much attention over the last decade or two, things are distinctly picking up. Is it all good though?
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Today for the second AACR 2017 Preview, I wanted to switch things up a bit and turn from looking at an important trend to a specific tumour type. One of the reasons for this is that we received questions from readers about recent data presented at medical meetings in this sphere.
It’s also not something that we have covered extensively here on BSB, so looking at something in a different light is often a good idea since insights and intelligence can sometimes jump out afresh.
Given that there are also some important clinical trial results emerging here, this is something we can expect to return to in Washington DC when the data is presented at AACR next month. What can we learn ahead of the event though? It turns out the answer is quite a lot.
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One of the frequently cited conceptual frameworks in Cancer Immunotherapy is the Cancer Immunity Cycle developed by Drs Dan Chen and Ira Mellman from Genentech.
Ira Mellman and Dan Chen
As we heard Dan and Ira tell us on the Novel Targets Podcast recorded last year at #AACR16, the cancer immunity cycle doesn’t include all the elements that we now know impact the immune system and whether someone will have an immune response. The microbiome is one example that readily comes to mind.
To address this, Chen and Mellman have now published the next installment in the series in Nature:
“Elements of Cancer Immunity and the cancer-immune setpoint.”
The review paper published last month incorporates the latest research into a different framework that looks at the factors that influence what they call the ‘cancer-immune setpoint.’
Anyone involved with cancer immunotherapy knows how fast moving and dynamic the field is, something they draw attention to:
“The pace of cancer immunotherapy clinical studies is such that they have outstripped our progress in understanding the underlying science. However, this situation has created the opportunity to combine emerging scientific and clinical insights in a synergistic fashion that… will also provide guidance for the identification of new targets… and the crafting of a framework for making decisions on a personalized basis.”
Conceptual frameworks such as those proposed by Chen and Mellman will be of increasing importance as we try to make sense of the tsunami of cancer immunotherapy clinical trial data, including combinations, that is coming our way over the next 18 months.
During my recent visit to San Francisco for ASCO GI, I had the great pleasure to catch up with Daniel S. Chen, MD PhD, (Global Head of Cancer Immunotherapy Development, Genentech/Roche) and talk about his latest thoughts on how we should think about cancer immunotherapy.
In writing these review papers he told me:
“We look at this as an opportunity to really think about the field, and try to conceptualize what is happening.”
We also discussed their collaboration with Kite Pharma, something of relevance to conferences this week as we head off to BMT Tandem and the ASCO-SITC meeting.
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After several years in the wastelands of cancer research due to lack of significant results and only one product on the market, therapeutic cancer vaccines now look to be back in fashion and are seeing a revival with their inclusion in clinical trials.
One of the reasons behind the resurgence of interest is the advent of checkpoints, and the potential of vaccines in the immuno-oncology space to boost or enhance the immune response.
Their use could not only increase the response to checkpoint inhibitors in people who might otherwise not respond, but in those who obtain some initial response such as a partial response, they could also potentially help achieve a more durable long-term response.
As we continue to ride the wave of cancer immunotherapy on BSB, the cancer vaccine field is suddenly an exciting area to watch.
I’ve long been known as a cancer vaccine sceptic, although recently several approaches in this niche have begun to look rather promising indeed. Here, we highlight and discuss one such company in the field, including an interview with the CEO.
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