Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘checkpoint inhibitors’

We’ve come a long way over the last two years in the oncology market, with several novel approaches approved, numerous major phase 3 trials evolving and a huge turnaround for many companies in terms of early pipeline activity.

ASCO 2016 Posters 3

The melée at the ASCO 2016 Poster Hall

Unfortunately, this also means that the tendency of lemming activity also increases in the rush to copy everyone else and not be left behind.  Just a couple of years ago, some industry friends grumbled that there were over 20 checkpoint inhibitors chasing them in development; they may be surprised to know that now there are nearly 70!  This is both unprecedented and unsustainable, and yet it’s also a function of the perceived success these agents have had on the cancer R&D landscape to date.  Everyone wants one for fear of being left behind… except that many are indeed way behind already.

You can imagine the tall guy on the left of the picture looking at his watch and wondering, “Ah so many new posters, so little time!”

Meanwhile, as the rate of approved cancer therapies increases, so does the inexorable march in terms of hyper-aggressive basket pricing.  I would argue that at some point, it no longer acceptable or even conscionable to change a premium or even market rate for drugs that give an incremental improvement of a mere 2 months of extra life.

Equally, one thing that many industry observers and the media love to do, and wrongly in my view, is to compare the individual drug prices on an annualized basis.  This is silly for several reasons:

  1. So far, not all patients are treated for a full year
  2. If patients are treated until progression and that happens early, then therapy is stopped
  3. What people should be looking at is the average treatment cost based on the length of therapy – some people will receive a few months and some much more than that
  4. What’s the true cost of a cure or remission to a patient and their family?
  5. How do we quantify the impact of the long lasting durable remissions?

These questions will become increasingly important as we see a more aggregated therapy approach emerge over the next few years.

By this, I mean that we are now going beyond monotherapy and even combinations; those trials have already long started and are the low hanging fruit that has been rapidly snapped up by the early players, as we eagerly wait for their data readouts.

If you have new agents coming-out of preclinical and into phase 1 development over the next year, there are a number of important questions to consider:

  • What are you going to do and where do you start?
  • How do you gain an edge when coming from (way) behind?
  • How do you develop unique positioning that could sustain your molecule in a sea of similar competitors?
  • Is it realistic to expect the 17th and 50th checkpoint to have equivalent efficacy as what went on before and will all of these seriously make it to market?

You can see now why even the FDA’s Dr Richard Pazdur was moved to grumble about the surfeit of me-toos here and company expectations that the FDA should consider them – it’s on a massive scale that we haven’t seen before.  For once I agree and empathize with him over that dilemma, it’s madness to think they will all be as good as pembrolizumab or nivolumab.

What we are starting to see emerge now is a surprising synthesis of ideas and a merging of disparate approaches. How will this affect oncology R&D over the next 1–5 years?

A couple of smart readers wrote in asking about these emerging trends, what have we identified so far, and where do we see the oncology space going in the near to medium term future. Now that AACR and ASCO are behind us, what can we learn about the new developments and where they all fit in the oncology landscape strategically?

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Chicago ArchitectureChicago – the ASCO 2016 annual meeting is in full swing. This is the third and last day of our rolling blog where we’re providing updates with top-line commentary throughout the data.

If interested, you can also check out the many updates from Day 1 and Day 2.

There’s a lot happening at ASCO today, including a presentation by Vice President Joe Biden later this morning. Allow extra time for security checks if you plan to listen to him in person, and I expect there’ll be delays to the hotel shuttle buses around Chicago as roads are closed to accommodate the VP’s motorcade.

Many people chose not to come to ASCO this year – but it’s turned out to be a great meeting. We’ve heard a lot of new data which are likely to have an impact on future clinical trial strategy, as companies look to bring new products to market in what is a competitive field, particularly in cancer immunotherapy. There are how many PD-1 checkpoints in development now?

A word of warning to the wise – not all these IO molecules are going to win – some are going to fail, some will be useful tools in various subsets and some are going to be new home runs.

If you’d like to read our coverage of Monday at ASCO 2016, you can login if already a subscriber, or you can purchase access below by clicking on the Blue Box below.

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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A burning question in the field of cancer immunotherapy is how long do you have to give a checkpoint inhibitor for?

At the recent Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) annual meeting, new data presented by one of the leaders in the field, offered insight (from an unexpected direction) into what the answer to this question may be.

It has huge implications for cancer immunotherapy treatment and the many companies involved in this space.

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SITC 2015 National Harbor Gaylord MDNational Harbor, MD.  Today was a busy day with the ASH abstracts coming out this morning, and some ground-breaking data that demanded an immediate #ASH15 preview post.

At the same time we’re here at SITC, and keeping an eye on the AACR-NCI-EORTC Molecular Targets meeting – it’s like three buses come at once!

So what happened at SITC today? In this post we’ve put a quick summary of some of the presentations we heard on Day 2 that stood out.  Sometimes what’s most important is what people don’t say.

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The 30th anniversary meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (Twitter #SITC2015) starts today at National Harbor, MD just outside of Washington DC.

Congratulations to SITC on 30 years of Advancing Cancer Immunotherapy Worldwide!

National Harbor MD SITC

It’s an unusually packed conference season this month with the AACR-NCI-EORTC Molecular Targets (#Targets15) meeting in Boston unfortunately clashing with SITC 2015.  In previous years, the Triple meeting has been held in late October, something we hope it will return to in future.

Many of the leading cancer immunologists are at National Harbor…

In our latest conference preview post, we’ve taken a quick look at some of the late breaker and poster abstracts of note and will cover the main oral presentations at the end of each day, so do check back daily for more news and views.

As subscribers already know, we generally provide most of our commentary and analysis after a meeting when we’ve had a chance to hear the data, “kick the tyres” and talk to researchers. However, for those who can’t be at SITC, we will be writing a “top-line”post at the end of each day to give you a flavor of what’s hot at SITC 2015 and our initial impressions of the data we heard.

We typically generate a separate page for each conference we cover, so you can find the SITC 2015 coverage here; it includes some additional posts that make for background reading.

Wednesday’s program at National Harbor starts off with a Global Regulatory Summit (which we’ll miss due to travel) and an International Symposium on Cancer Immunotherapy later in the afternoon.

The weather looks like it’s going to be quite delightful at National Harbor – hopefully the meeting room won’t be as frigid as last year – and in addition to the great science, we’re look forward to meeting up with those of our subs who are here too!

If you’re not already a subscriber (and if you’re reading this you probably should be) then you can purchase access below. Stay tuned for more!

Over the last couple of years we have heard much about targeting various checkpoints that exert an inhibitory effect on the immune system and the T cells, in particular.  The main targets where we have a growing body of evidence to date are CTLA-4, PD-1 and PD-L1, but there are others including LAG-3, TIM-3, ICOS etc.

Earlier this year at AACR, we saw new evidence that combining two checkpoints (anti-CTLA4 and anti-PD1) was superior to monotherapy in metastatic melanoma, albeit with a concomitant increase in toxicities.

What about the other inhibitory signals though?  Are they bystanders, much like passenger mutations that have little effect, or do they matter, at least in some tumor types?  If so, which ones?

We took a look at some of the emerging data associated with targeting TIM-3 – the results may well surprise some observers.

New developments in renal cell carcinoma

Continuing our focus on genitourinary (GU) cancers this week, today we turn our focus from prostate cancer to renal cell carcinoma (RCC).

There were two important announcments on Monday this week relating to renal carcinoma.

Firstly, Exelixis announced positive top line data from a phase 3 pivotal trial of cabozantinib versus everolimus in relapsed metastatic renal cell carcinoma (METEOR).  The study met the primary endpoint (i.e. significantly improved progression free survival) and the company revealed the following data:

  • Cabozantinib reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 42%; Hazard Ratio = 0.58, (p < 0.0001) compared to everolimus
  • Interim Analysis of OS demonstrated a trend in favour of cabozantinib; Hazard Ratio = 0.67, (p = 0.005) compared to everolimus
  • Exelixis to complete US and EU regulatory filings in early 2016

Secondly, a press release from BMS highlighted the phase 3 CHECKMATE–025 trial comparing nivolumab to everolimus, also in relapsed metastatic RCC, where the independent Data Monitoring Committee recommended early stoppage on the basis of the primary endpoint (OS) being met. The company likely be seeking discussions with Health Authorities with a view to filing the data with the FDA and EMA.

There are some interesting points that fall out of these releases. To learn more, subscribers can log-in below or you can purchase a subscription in the box below.

With the launch of Episode 4 of the Novel Targets podcast today, I wanted to provide some more detailed background and a roadmap for this part of the journey for subscribers. There’s tremendous wealth of data now building up in several areas related to cancer immunotherapy and both interviewees, Drs Oliver Sartor (Tulane) and James Gulley (NCI), touched on many of them.

Thanks to Tom Gajewski’s exciting work, we can broadly think about different tumour types as inflamed (immunogenic) versus non-inflamed (non-immunogenic), which is a helpful starting point. Not all tumours thought to be responsive to immunotherapy will actually respond though, so we still have much work to do on the 70–80% of patients with solid tumours that don’t respond to these therapies.

Anyone who is interested can listen to the latest Novel Targets podcast.

The latest episode explores non-immunogenic tumours, using prostate cancer as an example. In the last third of the show, we do indeed talk about a promising new target that may have relevance not just to prostate cancer, but other tumour types too.

Listen to Episode 4  (open access thanks to our sponsors, Genentech)

BSB Subscribers can learn more in-depth information and insights about this emerging field by signing in or you can sign-up in the box below.

After yesterdays post on Gems from the Poster Halls at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Philadelphia where we took a look at new developments in targeted therapies, several subscribers asked for a repeat, but with a focus on immuno-oncology.

AACR 2015 Checkpoint Inhibitor PostersThere are a number of elements that many people are interested in, especially given the Merck and BMS clinical data at AACR, where we clearly saw that:

  • Anti-PD–1 therapy with pembrolizumab is superior to anti-CTLA4 with ipilimumab in metastatic melanoma (expect nivolumab to show the same thing at ASCO)
  • Combined PD–1 plus CTLA4 blockade (with nivolumab plus ipilimumab) was superior to anti-CTLA4 alone, but with higher grade 3/4 toxicities, also in advanced melanoma

Sadly though, we still see that 70-80% of patients don’t respond to these therapies.

  • How can we improve on that?
  • What happens when we explore other factors, tumour types and different aspects of the immune system?
  • What can we learn about novel sequencing or combination approaches?
  • Which ones look interesting?

Endless questions can be asked – to which we still have too few answers – although there were some encouraging signs and hints of possibilities at AACR.

The 2015 AACR program was particularly challenging this year with lots of really good symposia and general sessions, making it tough to whizz round the vast poster hall spread out around the exhibits as well.  To give you an idea of scale, it was pretty typical to cover 17K to 18K steps a day, approximately 7 to 8 miles.  For many people, fitting in a quick lunch and the posters was certainly a challenging feat, depending where you were in the complex.  With a morning session ending at 12.30pm, the afternoon session starting at 1pm and 2,000 steps between the Grand and Terrace Ballrooms, you sure had to get your skates on, Beep Beep!

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