Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘cobimetinib’

gaylord-national-harbour-md

National Harbor, MD

Despite remarkable results with cancer immunotherapy to date, we do need to keep out feet on the ground and remember that response rates are relatively low to modest (10–30%) and the majority of patients do not respond or see a benefit with these approaches.

As we start moving beyond checkpoint monotherapy, the realisation has fast hit many researchers and companies that we really don’t know as much about the tumour microenvironment (TME) as we would like.

No doubt we will learn a lot more about it from the combinatory approaches, but be aware that this also means higher risk associated with such developments – we will likely see a lot of failures – and hopefully, some successes too.

This is where the little biotech companies have an opportunity to shine… they may have some intriguing IO compounds in development but not an anti-PD1/L1 backbone, meaning they can collaborate with a big pharma company to explore novel combinations in small phase 1/2 trials to determine what works or not. This is much lower risk (and R&D costs) for both parties and we get to see more quickly where things shake out.

At the annual Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) meeting last week, there was a whole day devoted to New Immunotherapy Drug Development.  

Some of these agents look worthy of watching out for and following their progress.  A variety of data in different targets and MOA were presented from big and small companies alike.  We selected a few of the promising ones for further review and discussion.

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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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This week in our colorectal cancer mini-series we have covered the validation of Immunoscore as a tool for determining which patients have high T cells in their tuours and are therefore candidates for single agent immunotherapy (Link), as well as microsatellite instability (MSI) and mismatch-repair deficient tumours and how they can respond immunotherapy (Link).

What happens in the majority (95%) of patients, the microsatellite stable (MSS) disease who are mismatch-repair proficient though?  They don’t respond well to checkpoint blockade so how can we help them?

Dr Johanna Bendell ASCO 2016In Chicago, BSB interviewed Dr Johanna Bendell from the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville, Tennessee to find out more about what she and her colleagues have been doing and where they plan to go next.

You can learn about her perspectives from ASCO by logging in below or if you’re new then you can sign up for a BSB subscription via the blue box…

We have selected five key strategic trends that are emerging that will be critical to follow, understand, and even implement if you are on the coal-face of clinical research and new product development.

ASCO16 Chicago 5We aren’t talking about financial things such as cost toxicity, or even how doctors should be paid, but meaty scientific aspects that we need to watch out for. If we are going to improve on cancer research and R&D in the future, these issues will be important.

For companies and academic researchers alike, there is much to learn from the tsunami of data that hit this week if you have a keen interest in the field and a bent for making sense of patterns out of an amorphous mass of data.

Not paying attention to evolution in clinical development can mean the difference between being in the winners circle, on the outside looking in, or falling way behind your competitors. Playing catch up is never anyone’s idea of fun in this market – oncology moves at a lightning fast pace compared to many other therapy areas.

Intrigued? To find out what these strategic trends are, subscribers can log-in to read the analysis or you can sign-up by clicking on the Blue Box below.

View from ASCO annual meetingChicago – it’s “Plenary Sunday” at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

Cancer immunotherapy has arrived at ASCO! Not so long ago cancer immunotherapy presentations were in small meeting rooms and had only a few attendees – at this meeting cancer immunotherapy data is being presented to thousands of attendees in large meetings rooms, including the B1 plenary hall. What a difference in the space of a few years!

Today at ASCO there are several noteworthy cancer immunotherapy presentations. We’ll be writing about them here on the blog during the day.

Part of the opportunity of coming to a meeting such as ASCO is the networking opportunities it affords.

While in Chicago I heard about a phase 3 trial from a global pharma company that failed to meet its primary endpoint last year, however, – to the best of my knowledge – there’s been no publication or presentation of the negative data that may help the field move forward. The investigators have been told “it’s a bust.”

Not to publish or present negative data is a disservice to the patients that enrolled on the trial. Many would have believed their participation would contribute to the advancement of science and medicine, and potentially benefit others.

Want to know what the trial is and the company involved? Subscribers can login to find more or you can purchase access below to read more, along with our coverage of Sunday at ASCO 2016.

Update 12.30pm. Occasionally we decide something we talk about needs to be “open access” so we’ve published a short post. It is freely available to all. Turns out the negative data from BMS was mentioned in a July 23, 2015 financial results press release. Almost a year later, the negative data has still not been presented or published.

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.

To learn more, Subscribers can log-in below or you sign up for a subscription and join the ever burgeoning BSB club of sophisticated lay people – including investors and commercial/new product development people – who can really understand and appreciate the fundamentals of cancer R&D…

A decade or so ago, the annual conferences for the European Congress of Clinical Oncologists (ECCO) and European Society of Medical Oncologists (ESMO) were considered convenient dumping grounds for negative or failed trials. This was largely because they received much less attention than their big brother, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

In the last few years, this trend has shifted with excellent clincial and scientific data being presented at both meetings – they alternate as hosts each year – under the European Cancer Congress (ECC) umbrella.

Just to confuse a global audience long used to referring to the meetings as ESMO and ECCO, while the logical Twitter hashtag might appear to be #ESMO14 and #ECCO15, respectively, based on the standard nomenclature of conference acronym followed by the year, the vagaries of European politics mean we end up with… #ECC2015.

It will be interesting to see how they compete for attention because this hashtag signal will be dirty (more than one usage) and noisy (many disparate voices) with the European Curling Championship, a European Cheerleader Convention and another on e-cigarettes and vaping, all seemingly using the same moniker!

ECCO 2015 Vienna

Still, what many readers are really eager to learn though, is this a great, middling, or poor year for exciting new data in the field of cancer research and what can we expect to hear about in Vienna later this month?

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Today’s post focuses on another question from a reader, who asked: “How will we decide which therapies to give patients with metastatic melanoma once the new immunotherapies are available?”

This is not an easy question to answer, but first let’s remember that as little as five years ago there were only treatments such as DTIC (dacarbazine), temozolamide, interferon, chemotherapy and not much else as choices for people with advanced melanoma. Survival rates were generally poor, yet despite the low barrier to entry, many agents failed miserably to beat them. The disease was therefore widely considered to be a graveyard for Pharma R&D.

Fast forward to 2014. We now have several targeted therapies and combinations approved including BRAFV600E (vemurafenib and dabrafenib) and MEK inhibitors (trametinib), as well as a number of others that may soon be on the way in the near term such as cobimetinib in combination with vemurafenib.  Along similar lines, GSK recently announced that the combination of dabrafenib plus trametinib was superior to vemurafenib alone in terms of overall survival.  Hopefully, we will see the full data for both combinations at a medical meeting such as ESMO or EADO in the Fall.

Immunotherapies such as ipilimumab (Yervoy) have also been shown to improve patient outcomes. In addition, others are also in the queue including anti-PD–1 antibodies, which are likely to be reviewed soon by the Health Authorities (e.g. pembrolizumab and nivolumab). Indeed, Japan already approved nivolumab (Opdivo) in advanced melanoma on July 4th, making it the first anti-PD–1 checkpoint inhibitor to be available globally. Meanwhile, in the US Merck had a jump start with their rolling NDA for pembrolizumab already started (the PDUFA is Oct 28th, 2014). Their data at ASCO included probably one of the largest trials I’ve seen in advanced melanoma with over 400 patients included. BMS are not far behind with nivolumab, however, and are expecting to begin their filing in the 3Q this year following the frontline trial (CHECKMATE 037) in BRAF wild type (wt) metastatic melanoma versus dacarbazine successfully meeting its primary endpoint earlier than expected.

You can read about the clinical results relating to the three key melanoma trials reported at ASCO by Ribas et al., Hodi et al., and Sznol et al., in our earlier review but today, I wanted to focus on a broader, more strategic perspective, now that several events post meeting are shaking out more clearly.

A couple of years ago (was it really that long?!), many of us were quite disappointed to see the combination of vemurafenib plus ipilimumab scuttled due to unexpected liver toxicity, although the good news from ASCO is that a dual immunotherapy combination (ipilimumab plus nivolumab) appears not to have met the same fate.

The landscape for metastatic melanoma is therefore rapidly changing, but where is this field likely to go and what can we expect to see?

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At the annual AACR meeting last year, I wrote about an awesome piece of research from Meghna Das (NIBR) who looked at intermittent dosing of vemurafenib in animal models of BRAF driven melanoma and found that such an approach reduced resistance and improved outcomes.

GarrawayLeviMany of us are unlikely to forget the fascinating sequence of photos shown by Levi Garraway (Broad/MIT) two years earlier at the same conference, when he highlighted the before and after impact of vemurafenib therapy on a patient with advanced melanoma in glorious technicolour. Sadly, the subsequent photo six to nine months later showed that the lesions came back with a vengeance and the patient passed away.

Given that the disease is exquisitely sensitive to BRAF inhibitors, how can we improve this situation and overcome the resistance for future patients?

Das’s work was one of the highlights of that conference for me, since it involved creative thinking and a series of very well done, logical experiments that clearly showed an impact. The post drew a lot of ire and attention though, with many researchers emailing me to say they thought the idea was crazy and utterly against their understanding that you need to continually hit the target 24/7 or risk sudden relapse.  It drew as much surprised reaction as a related and controversial post on minimally effective dose, where I argued that we needed new approaches to hitting the target.

Today, it’s time for an update on this controversy – what happens when we go from bench to bedside and back again? What can we learn from an N of one that helps us figure out the optimal strategies for overcoming acquired resistance to TKI therapy?

Therapies mentioned: vemurafenib, dabrafenib, trametinib, cobimetinib

Companies mentioned: Roche/Genentech, Novartis, GSK, Exelixis

The story is truly a fascinating one – sign in or sign up below to learn the latest developments in BRAF-driven malignancies.

For the third part of the series on the AACR Previews, I wanted to switch directions and take a broad look at five completely different approaches in cancer research that we haven’t discussed on Biotech Strategy before and look at how they are doing and which ones might be promising going forward. Some of these scientific developments could potentially impact existing compounds in development.

Companies mentioned: Exelixis, Roche/Genentech, GSK, Clovis, AstraZeneca, Oncoethix

Compounds discussed: cobimetinib, DEDN6526A, ipatasertib, dabrafenib, trametinib, OTX015, JQ1, CO–1686, AZD9291

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