Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘Breast Cancer’

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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We’ve had a couple of requests come in for a revival of the old conference series… ‘Gems from the poster halls’ because quite a few folks are interested in the up and coming data from small to medium biotechs.

SABCS San Antonio CrowdA bunch of my Post Doc chums in this field were at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) meeting and gleefully highlighted mobbed posters or areas where they thought the data looked potentially interesting.

From these, we selected a few for review in today’s look at the nuggets that can be gleaned from cool and intriguing trials or preclinical research that may influence future trials.

Companies covered in this article include Seattle Genetics, Jounce, Immunomedics, Syndax and MedImmune.

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Biomarkers are a hotly debated topic at the moment within the cancer immunotherapy field.

At the recent Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer annual meeting (SITC 2015), there was even a debate with industry representatives arguing the “pros” and “cons.” Daniel Chen, MD PhD from Genentech (pictured right) argued “pro” and Steven Averbuch MD (pictured left) from BMS argued “con.”

SITC 2015 Biomarker Debate

The challenging question for anyone at the moment is if your Parent, Spouse or Best Friend were PD-L1 negative, would you still want them to receive a PD-1/PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor (presuming it was indicated for the disease) and have a chance of a response, even if their PD-L1 negativity would suggest only a slim chance of responding?

AT SITC 2015 we spoke with an industry expert who offered insights into a leading company’s biomarker strategy and what the future may look like in 5-7 years time.

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Beyond the late breaking abstracts and plenary sessions at the European Cancer Conference being held in Vienna, Austria later this month, what other important topics can we expect to hear about?

ECCO 2015 Vienna

We covered the former in the last article on Biotech Strategy Blog, today we turn our attention to the proffered (oral) sessions and what we can learn from those sessions and the expected data that is due to be presented.

There are a number of interesting topics and new data slated for presentation that are worthy of review and highlighting in a What To Watch out For (W2W4) format.

Here’s our take on the potential highlights at the meeting.

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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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The next few weeks will see quite a lot of activity here on Biotech Strategy Blog with the segue from Miami Breast Cancer Conference to the World Lung Conference in Geneva and then onto the annual AACR meeting in San Diego.

Over the last year, we’ve seen a lot of attention focused on immuno-oncology, but very little of the data has emerged yet in breast cancer. Instead, we’ve seen a new approval for pertuzumab (Perjeta) in neoadjuvant disease, based on pCR. You can read more about new developments in targeting HER2 in neoadjuvant breast cancer in the last post.

One area that has generated a lot of interest in metastatic breast cancer is CDK inhibition, whether that be the potential for targeting 1 and 2 in triple negative disease, or targeting 4 and 6, in ER positive situations, for example. Some inhibitors are more specific (Pfizer’s palbociclib and Novartis’s LEE011 target CDK4/6), whereas others hit a broader spectrum such as Merck’s dinaciclib, which inhibits CDK1/2/5/9. The challenge with pan inhibitors is that if the target is doesn’t matter to the tumour then there is potential for unwanted off-target side effects.

Last month Pfizer announced that the topline phase II results from the PALOMA –1 trial with their CDK4/6 inhibitor, palbociclib, were positive – no doubt we will see an ODAC meeting soon to discuss the FDA application and possible accelerated approval. The company received Breakthrough Therapy Designation in April last year and given the survival curves from the phase II study that have previously been presented at SABCS, I think they make a very good case for early approval.

Recall that the interim analysis demonstrated very compelling median progression free survival (PFS) of 26.1 months for palbociclib when combined with letrozole compared to only 7.5 months with letrozole alone in women who were post-menopausal with newly diagnosed ER+ HER2- breast cancer. obviously the final results will be important in influencing any FDA decision, but by whatever yardstick you use, those were very impressive data indeed.

The phase III trials, PALOMA–2 and PALOMA–3, are already open and enrolling patients.

Bill Sellers, Source: NIBR

Bill Sellers, Source: NIBR

Other companies also have CDK4/6 inhibitors in clinical development, including Lilly and Novartis.

Today’s post focuses on progress in targeting CDK4/6, including highlights from an interview with William Sellers MD, PhD from the Novartis Institute of Biomedical Research (NIBR).

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This morning in Amsterdam brought some interesting breast and ovarian cancer presentations that I thought deserved a quick recap – one is potentially practice changing in HER2 breast cancer and the other is a new product in development (Biomarin’s BMN 673) that is worth watching out for:

It’s a busy day of science at the 102nd American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting in Orlando, You can follow what’s happening on twitter, #AACR.  Pharma Strategy Blog has an excellent “Cover it Live” widget that shows everyone’s #AACR tweets. It allows you to go back in time, so you can see what happened earlier.  AACR also has some excellent webcasts and podcasts from the meeting.

However, what caught my attention this morning was the launch of a new journal, Cancer Discovery; preview copies were handed out to attendees at the plenary session this morning.

In a world where we are already overwhelmed by data, publications and sources of information, why is this journal both important and worth reading?

Firstly, this team has a distinguished group of editors, Lewis Cantley, PhD and José Baselga MD PhD are Editors-in-Chief.  However, what attracted me was the way this journal, in a highly readable way, covers a wide range of topics from news, updates on current research to mini reviews and research articles.

In the news section, the journal picked up on nanodiamonds for drug delivery (a topic previously mentioned on this blog), and discussed the Gilead acquisition of Calistoga from perspective of bringing PI3K delta inhibitors to market.

I liked the selected highlights of recent articles of exceptional significance from the cancer literature.  The mini review on the “stumbling blocks on the path to personalized medicine in Breast Cancer” summarized the challenges in the clinical development of PARP inhibitors. The research articles reminded me of those I’ve read in other journals such as Science, with high quality figures and tables.

If AACR and the editors can keep up the high standard of the April 2011 preview copy they have published, Cancer Discovery will definitely be on the reading list of those involved with cancer research, new product development and translational medicine.

You can find out more about Cancer Discovery and read online articles on the AACR website.

That is the interesting question that struck me after reading Sam Kean’s informative article in the February 4 edition of Science.  Ten years on from the sequencing of the Human Genome, the patenting of human genetic information presents unique challenges at the interface of science, law and innovation.

Researchers have obtained patents for isolating different sections of DNA that occur naturally in our bodies.  Whether this should be permitted is still open to debate. Currently, diagnostic companies who want to launch a new cancer test face the challenge that patents now cover many genes.

The Science article cites start-up Foundation Medicine in Cambridge, MA who estimated the cost of investigating possible patent infringement for a new diagnostic test at $35M, a cost that exceeded the company’s $25M of VC funding.

Add in the costs of any royalties or licensing fees and the issue of prior patents is now a nightmare for any diagnostics company.  It is simply not practical to license every gene that may be implicated in a multifactorial disease such as diabetes.  Pre-existing patents have become a barrier to market entry.

As the Science article reports, gene patents cover not only very small snips of DNA, as short as 15 nucleotides, but can prohibit the sequencing of associated DNA. Companies such as 23andMe that sequence an individual’s genome to test for the presence of certain genes may be violating patent rights of others.

What’s more so called “method” patents cover the linking of a gene sequence with a specific medical condition.

As advances in personalized medicine continue, there is a need to balance the competing interests of protecting scientific discovery and rewarding innovation, while at the same time allowing access to human genetic information that many think should be “free to all men and reserved exclusively to none.” Quotation from Bilski v. Kappos, 130 S.Ct. 3218, 3225 (2010)

A law suit currently on appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit may lead to a change in the current practices of the US Patent & Trademark Office.  The American Association of Pathologists and others have challenged several patents relating to the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRAC2 held by Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.  The US district court for the Southern District of New York in a surprise decision by Judge Robert Sweet, invalidated Myriad’s patents.  The New York Times article about the case has a link to the Judge’s 156 page opinion.  The decision that isolated but otherwise unaltered DNA should not be patentable is now being appealed by Myriad.

In their legal brief, arguing for the decision to be upheld, the United States Government states:

“The fact that a particular segment of the human genome codes for the BRCA1 protein in a human cell, for example, rather than for adrenaline or insulin or nothing at all, is not within the power of science to alter. Such basic natural relationships may not be the subject of a patent.”

If the District Court’s decision is upheld on appeal, it would represent a fundamental policy shift on what patents can be obtained for human genetic information. Such a decision would prevent Myriad from charging royalties and exclusivity for the genetic testing of BRCA1 and potentially invalidate similar types of patents. Depending on your point of view this will either harm the biotechnology industry or increase the market opportunities.

Given the stakes involved, it is likely the Myriad case will end up being considered by the United States Supreme Court, and what they may decide is anyone’s guess.

To read more in-depth analysis about the Myriad case and the legal issues involved with the patenting of genomic information, I strongly recommend the “Genomics Law Report”, a blog written by Dan Vorhaus and others.

Ten years after the human genome was sequenced we are still working out the intellectual property rights. The question as to whether companies should be allowed to patent unaltered human genes is one that will be answered in the not too distant future.

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