Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘GvHD Microbiome’

North Shore Surf Shop SignAloha! The BMT Tandem meeting (Twitter #BMTTandem16) is underway in Honolulu, and we’re looking forward to the scientific presentations that start tomorrow, Thursday.

This preview highlights some of the presentations that may be of interest to subscribers at the meeting over the next 5 days when they’re not surfing waves at the North Shore! The meeting ends on Monday Feb 22.

If you can’t make it to Hawaii, then I expect the BMT community will be sharing updates from the meeting via Twitter. Do follow: @DrMiguelPerales, @DrKomanduri, @sgiraltbmtdoc, @DrMvandenBrink, @BldCancerDoc, @MSKBMTTandem & others (this is not intended to be a definitive list, only a starting point).

We won’t be doing a daily blog, but will be generating some commentary and analysis, as the opportunity presents.

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T cell activation has been very much to the fore over the last couple of years with many companies looking at different ways to use them against cancer cells, with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, vaccines or monoclonal antibodies. There are situations though, where T cells are not necessarily a good thing.

Graft versus Host disease (GvHD) is an area of tremendous unmet medical need that is triggering the interest of a number of biotech and rare disease companies such as Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN).

Houston based Bellicum Pharmaceuticals (BLCM), whose IPO raised around $140M last month, have said they plan to spend most of the funds on bringing to market a new cell therapy that could make stem cell transplants more effective and reduce GvHD. They also have a CAR-T therapy in early development.

Indeed, at last month’s ASH 2014 annual meeting in San Francisco, GvHD was very much a hot topic, with data presented in the plenary session by Dr Wei Li (pictured below) on a novel biomarker for GI GvHD.

Dr Wei Li ASH 2014 GvHD Plenary

This post discusses one of the GvHD oral sessions at ASH 2014, and includes post-presentation commentary from Dr Marcel van den Brink, who is an expert in the area. The related interview Dr Brink kindly gave BSB at the SITC annual meeting is well worth reading if you missed it.

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Marcel R.M. van den Brink, M.D., Ph.D.At the 2014 Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) annual meeting at National Harbor, MD, one of the presentations that caught my attention was by Marcel van den Brink MD PhD (@DrMvandenBrink), pictured right, from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. (picture courtesy of MSKCC with permission).

Dr van den Brink, who is Head of the Division of Hematologic Oncology and Alan.N. Houghton Chair, gave a fascinating talk entitled, “The role of the Intestinal Microbiome on GvHD” (Graft versus Host Disease).

Think of the yogurt pots and probiotic drinks we see in the supermarket with “beneficial” bacteria. We’re familiar with the idea that the make up of the millions of bacteria in our gut can make a difference to our digestion and health.

Well, it turns out it can make a difference to our immune system too. Research presented at the recent SITC meeting by Dr van den Brink showed that manipulating the bacteria in the gut could potentially help the thousands of patients around the world who receive a bone marrow transplant (BMT).  BMT is a gruelling procedure that many leukemia, myeloma and lymphoma patients have to face as part of their treatment protocol.

Sadly, about 20%* of people who receive an allogeneic bone marrow transplant from an unmatched donor die from Graft versus host disease (GvHD)

* According to 2010-2011 data from the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transport (CIBMTR), GvHD was the cause of death in 19-23% of people who received an allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

After his informative and interesting presentation at SITC, Dr van den Brink spoke with BSB about his findings and what’s on the horizon for the treatment of GvHD.

Over the course of a half hour conversation, he covered some of the new treatment options, one of which may change the standard of care, and the rational some companies are pursuing by targeting the innate immune system.

For those interested in CAR-T cell therapy and the promise of allogeneic CAR-T cells, Dr van den Brink kindly talked about some unpublished data from MSKCC about why we have not seen GvHD in patients who receive allogeneic CAR-T cells.

GvHD is an important topic, and one that deserves more attention. I expect we will here a lot more about it at ASH this year so reading this interview will, hopefully, help you better put that data in context.

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SITC 2014 National Harbor MD Fall ColorsNational Harbor, MD – The 2014 Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) annual meeting officially kicked off today, with a record-breaking 1,500 attendees. The organization has grown by 33% over the past year highlighting the explosive progress in the field, and the growing importance of SITC!

There was a lot of thought provoking science on display as researchers and translational scientists came from all around the world to share results and talk about the future.

What struck me at the meeting today was the collegiality and friendliness of all who are here. It’s exciting times in immunotherapy and immuno-oncology and everyone at the meeting is bound by a common goal of making a difference to the lives of cancer patients.

The President of SITC, Francesco Marincola (Sidra) quoted Winston Churchill in his introductory address:

“Now this is not the end.

It is not even the beginning of the end.

But, perhaps it is the end of the beginning.”

Dr Marincola’s choice of quote seemed to strike the right balance of where we are at today: there’s still a long way to go to optimize cancer immunotherapy treatments, but equally there’s been tremendous progress to reach the point we are at where there are durable long-term responses in many patients who would otherwise not be alive today.

What was the highlight of Day 1 of SITC 2014?

For me, this morning, it was the presentation by Marcel van den Brink (MSKCC) on the influence of the microbiome on graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) for which there’s been no effective new treatment for over 25 years:

In the afternoon, it was the presentation by Roy Herbst (Yale) on the top ten lessons learned about immunotherapy for NSCLC.

It’s unfair to single out two presenters when there were multiple presentations and posters of note, but they stood out for me. If you’d like to read our more detailed notes from the road after Day 1 of SITC 2014, do sign in if you are already a subscriber or you can sign up below.

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