Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘GITR’

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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After looking at one important poster yesterday on multiple myeloma, it’s time to explore other equally interesting targets in other tumour types.

Some years reflect the inertia that hit oncology R&D with a lot of old data rehashed or they can be flooded with many me-too compounds.  Not this year, there’s a lot to talk about and review… so much so that we may well have enough for three rounds of Gems from the Poster Halls, time permitting as ASCO is fast approaching!

Without much further ado, for round 1 we have explored eight posters spanning four companies with a variety of different targets including chemotherapy, targeted therapies and immunotherapies.  I will say though, that the lines are being blurred as all of these modalities can impact the immune system, sometimes in unexpected ways.

What’s in store for today?  A focus on biotech companies doing intriguing cancer research.

Companies mentioned: Infinity, Innate, Incyte, Agenus

Macarons in shop windowWe’re all familiar by now with the idea of checkpoints that can be inhibitory (release the brake) or stimulatory (put the foot on the gas) on the immune system.

There are multiple checkpoint modulators in development, it’s becoming a bit like buying a macaron – which flavour do you want?

As the late Holbrook Kohrt said on the Novel Targets Podcast last year:

There are two types of checkpoint inhibitors, one checkpoint inhibitor are these series of markers that each of them when you target them, they will slow down the function of that cell. Now that’s a good thing if that cell is a suppressor cell, such as a regulatory T cell. Anti-CTLA-4, ipilimumab, the first approved immunotherapeutic monoclonal antibody targets these regulatory T cells. Essentially is this concept as you said of taking off the brake .

Now if you want to press on the gas pedal, you want to find a target that is essentially that actually increases the function of a cell you want to make work better…….

…. these ideas of the different checkpoint inhibitors, essentially we should really call them, checkpoint modulation, because the checkpoints can either be gas pedals or they can be brakes.

And ultimately, it’s a question about how do you combine them in a rational way so that way you’re not either pushing the car too hard or taking the brake off at a time when the car is rolling in the wrong direction.

So essentially, you need to do checkpoint modulation in a setting where you still have the steering wheel on your car to ensure it’s directed against the right cells, otherwise you’re going to get significant toxicity.”

Which is a good introduction to Day 5 of our Road to AACR 2016 mini-series.

Over the course of 12 days in the run up to the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), we’re taking a look at some of the areas we expect to hear more about in New Orleans.

In today’s post, which continues our look at some of novel cancer immunotherapy targets, we’re look at the modulation of GITR (glucocorticoid-induced tumor necrosis factor receptor related gene) and companies that are targeting this.

GITR was named as the 12th most promising cancer immunotherapy target by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) back in 2006.  Interestingly, high GITR expression can be found on both T cells and NK cells.

There are now several agonist antibodies in development and entering the clinic that seek to activate GITR, and new data is expected at AACR 2016.

What GITR pathway data is worth looking out for at AACR 2016?

If you want to know more about why GITR matters, and where it fits into the cancer immunotherapy landscape then do read more. 

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Port Sunglight SpringSpring has arrived in many parts of the world, and with it I am always reminded of William Wordsworth’s classic poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud:”

I wandered lonely as a cloud 
That floats on high o’er vales and hills, 
When all at once I saw a crowd, 
A host, of golden daffodils; 
Beside the lake, beneath the trees, 
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.


So what does the future hold for cancer immunotherapy?

Inspired by Wordsworth, I’ve sat on my cloud and have looked at some of the recent review papers and thought pieces published by experts in the field. Do they offer a Jerry Maguire – like mission statement: “The Things We Think and Do Not Say: The Future of Our Business” or will we have to wait till AACR 2016 in New Orleans to learn more?


This is the latest in our pre-AACR 2016 annual meeting series. Subscribers can login to read more or you can purchase access below.
Dr Mario Sznol

Dr Mario Sznol at SITC 2015 Patient Forum

“Novel Immunotherapies and Combinations” was the title of the talk by Dr Mario Sznol (Yale) at the recent Immunotherapy Patient Forum co-hosted by Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Organization (GRACE) and the Melanoma Research Alliance at the 2015 SITC annual meeting.

At the forum, Dr Sznol also led a breakout session, where he reviewed what is melanoma, the treatment of primary melanoma and management of advanced disease, as well as answering questions from the patients and patient advocates.

Often at medical meetings you hear the results of a clinical trial that is but one piece of the jigsaw, so it was interesting to hear a more comprehensive overview of the disease.

Dr Sznol kindly spoke with BSB about his vision for the future of cancer immunotherapies. This post includes excerpts from the interview along with additional commentary.

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“Nothing lasts forever, because nothing ever has.”

James Shelley, The Caesura Letters

This year’s annual AACR meeting was so good, we could probably write another 50 posts and still not be done! With ASCO fast approaching, however, it’s almost time to draw it to a close and the final post conference note will be published on Monday.

Today is the penultimate report and focuses on the key highlights that caught my attention in immuno-oncology, which covers the gamut from checkpoint inhibitors, co-stimulants, innate immunotherapy and CAR T cell therapy to bispecific antibody TCRs.

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Today I thought it would be a good idea to answer a question sent in by a premium subscriber.  He asked,

“What’s the deal with TIL and how does that relate to checkpoint inhibitors and PD-L1 expression?”

This is a good question and there were some interesting top-line debates about this at AACR recently, which are well worth discussing and highlighting.

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