Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘cancer metabolism’

ENA2014_Banner_400x250The annual Symposium on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics jointly run by the EORTC, NCI and AACR (aka “the Triple meeting”), starts tomorrow in Barcelona (Twitter hashtag #ENA2014).

This makes it a particularly busy week on the conference calendar as we segue from immunotherapy at SITC to Molecular Targets, not to mention the start of our previews on hematologic malignancies at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) coming up fast!

The Triple symposium alternates between the US and Europe. In case you missed it, here’s a link to our extensive coverage from last year’s Boston Molecular Targets Symposium that we attended.

This year in Barcelona, one of the highlights is the presentation of the latest clinical data for the phase 1 trial of AG-120 (Agios), an inhibitor of the IDH1 enzyme.

As the abstract that will be presented tomorrow by Daniel Pollyea, MD (University of Colorado, Denver) notes, “Cancer metabolism represents an emerging field of novel cancer target discovery.” Along with epigenetics, it’s an exciting area that we are actively following. For years metabolism has been promising to breakthrough with new ideas that move the needle in clinical research but few have lived up to the lofty expectations, with one exception.

We first wrote Agios back in 2012, when they showed that that mutations of the metabolic gene IDH1 were consistent with that of a cancer causing oncogene in glioblastoma.

Then at ASH 2013, we heard the preclinical data for AG-221 using IDH2 mutant acute myeloid leukemia (AML) xenografts and interviewed the Agios CEO, Dr David Schenkein. The story for AG-221 continued in a positive vein with early clinical data at AACR and ASCO earlier this year. You can read more in the related posts we’ve highlighted at  the end of this article.

Tomorrow at EORTC-NCI-AACR Molecular Targets in Barcelona we will hear about the preliminary results for the phase 1 trial of AG-120 in patients with advanced hematological malignancies including those with relapsed or refractory AML, myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and elderly untreated AML that harbor an IDH1 mutation.

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Biotech IPOs were a pretty hot topic in 2013, with some of the young stars in oncology seeing very good uptake and prices. Two companies that come to mind are Foundation Medicine and Agios Pharmaceuticals.  Last week, we covered Foundation Medicine (FMI) and their progress with genomic testing, which is used by a number of Pharma companies including Novartis, in their clinical trial program. Interestingly, another company using their platform is Agios (AGIO), a start up biotechnology company focusing on metabolism and its errant mechanisms in cancer related areas. Both Foundation Medicine and Agios are based in Cambridge, MA.

Agios have an impressive Founder list in Lew Cantley, Tak Mak, Craig Thompson, all strong scientists with an interest in biochemistry and metabolism. The Scientific Advisory Board is equally impressive and includes Charles Sawyers, Jeff Engelman, Pier Paolo Pandolfi and David Sabatini, to name a few luminaries. The last two are well known metabolism researchers who have published extensively on the PI3K pathway, as has Lew Cantley. Craig Thompson has published significant research on IDH metabolism and his lectures on the topic are always fascinating and educational.

You can imagine that board meetings at Agios could well be rather different from the average biotech if the founders or the advisory board decided to brainstorm or riff on the science… Whoa, who wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall and learn from the experts?  For a CEO, though, it might be akin to herding cats!  That said, I’m impressed that the company has such a clear, focused approach.

The company have a number of industry partnerships, including a recent extension last month to their existing agreement with Celgene.

With my background in biochemistry, I’m naturally drawn to follow metabolism-based approaches including the PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway and anything that involves the TCA cycle.  It’s a highly complex area, not least because most cancers have a high demand for metabolic inputs such as glucose and glutamine in order to constantly drive tumour proliferation and survival.

David SchenkeinAt the recent ASH meeting, they presented interesting preclinical data for AG-221 using IDH2 mutant AML xenografts. While in New Orleans,  I had the opportunity to sit down with the Agios CEO, Dr David Schenkein, and discuss their approach, challenges and direction in some detail. He is also presenting at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference today and giving a business update on the company’s progress.

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