Dr James Gulley is Chief of the Genito-Urinary malignancies branch and Director of the Medical Oncology service at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the National Institutes of Health. He’s a world-leading GU cancer expert and at the forefront of pioneering research to make cancer immunotherapy work in prostate cancer.
We last spoke to him at ASCO 2015 (See post: The future of prostate cancer immunotherapy). You can listen to excerpts from this interview on Episode 4 of the Novel Targets podcast (See: The non-inflamed tumour show).
Almost two years on, and new research by Dr Gulley and colleagues from the NCI shows that the STING pathway may have an important role to play in prostate cancer immunotherapy. Activation of this pathway through a novel mechanism could turn a cold non-inflamed tumor into a more inflamed or hotter one in men with advanced prostate cancer. How cool is that?!
At the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) that was recently held in Washington DC, Dr Gulley graciously spoke to BSB about some of the novel trials that are underway at the NCI, with the aim of making cancer immunotherapy work in men with advanced prostate cancer.
Dr Jim Gulley, NCI at AACR17
This is the seventh expert interviews in our series from AACR17 where we explore the conundrum:
How does Dr Gulley plan to light the immune camp fire in prostate cancer?
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After an entertaining morning yesterday – two interviews completed and wrong conference centre visited (yes really, there’s always a first for everything!) by lunchtime, things thankfully settled down.
Friday, for the uninitiated, is company symposia day – the equivalent of ASCO’s Super Friday. I rarely attend these in Europe, as they are more about corporate messages than what I call “proper CME”, meaning scientific or clinical fair balance and independence. This is one area where Europe still has a-ways to catch up the US on.
Before anyone gives me a hard time on this, I’ll never forget a vendor telling me a couple of years ago that I would love a particular symposia as he had personally ‘supervised and written’ the slides for the event, thus ‘ensuring’ it would be excellent while persuading me to attend against my better judgment. Naturally, I hated it – too many company messages or perspectives, and not ones I agreed with either – and left early, sadly disappointed.
We did attend the first ECC Press Briefing Friday afternoon with Drs Sant, Chouieri and Sharma. The last two authors presented on the metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC) data after initial therapy, which is being presented in the Presidential Symposium on Saturday morning. It was quite an eye opener in many ways, with some subtleties well worth exploring in additional analysis and discussion.
Beyond the obvious highlights of the day for Saturday (nivolumab and cabozantinib data in mRCC), the first official day here is pretty jam packed with lots of other data to ruminate over. Throughout the day, we’ll be adding additional notes, commentary and insights as the data emerges – and wifi permits.
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In today’s post, it’s time to address a bunch of questions we’ve received over the last few weeks from subscribers about the latest and – not so greatest – in cancer research.
ASCO 2015 Chicago
Sometimes these queries are fairly straightforward to answer, other times requires some sleuthing and hunting down thought leaders for some additional context and insights… For obvious reasons, these folks are best caught in person at cancer conferences such as AACR and ASCO. The feedback isn’t always sparkly and positive though, it can also be gloom and doom, just like the inclement weather!
So here goes, questions on the following are covered in the article below:
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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, 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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We’ve been following the updates on the PREVAIL study evaluating enzalutamide (Xtandi) versus placebo in metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) in the pre-chemotherapy setting for a while now. It’s interesting to see how the data evolves over time as it becomes more mature.
The first presentation, back in January 2014 at ASCO GU by Dr Tom Beer (OHSU) reported on the first 540 deaths and was subsequently followed by an update of the survival data at AUA in May of the same year by Dr Chris Evans (UCLA).
This morning at the European Urology Association (EAU) in Madrid in the late breaking session on prostate cancer, the honour fell to Professor Bertrand Tombal (Leuven), who did a very nice job of reviewing the mature PREVAIL data (based on 765 deaths) and providing some context for how the CRPC landscape is being impacted by AR pathway inhibitors.
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After the intensity of gastrointestinal cancer, we now turn our attention to genitourinary (GU) cancers with the upcoming ASCO GU meeting later this week in Orlando.
Two of the big topics here will be prostate and renal cell (RCC) cancers.
Unfortunately, the long awaited data in adjuvant RCC demonstrated that early treatment with sorafenib or sunitinib did not improve outcomes in locally advanced kidney cancer after resection. According to the ASCO press release, the trial conducted by Dr Haas and colleagues at U Penn discovered that:
“The average period to disease recurrence was similar between those who received sorafenib or sunitinib after surgery (5.6 years) and those treated with placebo (5.7 years).”
We will therefore turn our attention to castration resistant prostate cancer (CRPC).
One of the recent and ongoing controversies is splice variants, especially AR-V7, which is thought by some research groups to confer resistance to the hormonal therapies, enzalutamide and abiraterone. The big question though, is does it, and how useful is an assay in helping to determine appropriate therapy? Are there other factors at play?
We looked at the latest data and put the findings in context with what we know from other published research.
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There’s nothing better than seeing good news in the early morning email alerts I have set up on cancer research!
Today, it was the turn of Astellas and Medivation to announce the results of the TERRAIN study, which is a primarily European phase 2 trial that began in March 2011 in the prechemotherapy setting for castrate resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). The trial met its primary endpoint of progression free survival (PFS).
Why is this an important landmark in CRPC and what does the initial data show?
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A lot has happened this month with San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) and other data emerging that it could be subtitled:
A brief tale of two breast cancer drugs
At SABCS a couple of things looked pretty intriguing indeed. One we will cover in the New Year, along with an in-depth expert interview on the topic, while the other is the main focus of today’s note.
In the last post of 2014, it’s time to address some pertinent questions on triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) from subscribers – there is good news to report here, unlike the surprising MARIANNE results for Kadcyla and Perjeta in frontline HER2+ disease that were announced early this morning.
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A big thank you to all who have supported Biotech Strategy Blog Conference Coverage this past year. Wishing you good health, happiness and prosperity in 2015. See you on the other side!
This last week saw the ASCO Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco, although very little caught my attention from a drug development point of view. Much of the attention seemed to be focused on surgery, genetic counselling and screening.
With the 2014 European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) conference in Madrid coming up fast in only 2 weeks time, it seems a good point to take a look at what’s on the slate there, since there are some important clinical trials being presented there with new data that we can expect to hear a lot more about.
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Companies mentioned: Roche/Genentech, GSK, Novartis, AstraZeneca, Medivation, Astellas
Drugs mentioned: Pertuzumab, trastuzumab, lapatinib, PI3K inhibitors, olaparib, enzalutamide
There are a couple of important breast cancer trials with data being presented for the first time at Madrid.
At the ASCO GU meeting in January, Dr Thomas Beer presented the initial data for the PREVAIL trial, which explored enzalutamide (Xtandi) in castrate resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) prior to chemotherapy. Reactions to the data were mixed with many analysts, perhaps naively, focusing on the significant temporal survival benefit (2 months) rather than the 29% hazard ratio, which demonstrates the magnitude in the reduction in the risk of death over the control arm.
This weekend at the American Urological Association (AUA) meeting in Orlando, Dr Christopher Evans (UC Davis), presented the updated data, including the survival curves and a subset analysis for visceral and non-visceral disease. He focused on the clinical benefits that were clinically meaningful to the urology audience.
I have to say that the data shown was both compelling and impressive to me.
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