Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘MDSCs’

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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One of the (many) highlights for me at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) was a “Meet the Expert” session presented by Professor George Coukos.

Prof George Coukos AACR 2016

Prof George Coukos AACR 2016

Professor Coukos is Director of Oncology at the University Hospital of Lausanne and Director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Switzerland.

Ovarian cancer is becoming a fascinating battleground for cancer immunotherapy, with multiple challenges that must be overcome before we see improvements in outcomes, especially for women advanced disease.

The interview with Prof Coukos is a follow-on to the one we did on advanced ovarian cancer and checkpoint blockade at ECCO 2015 in Vienna with Dr Nora Disis (Link).

If you missed it, you can still listen to highlights in Episode 7 of the Novel Targets Podcast (Link).

After his AACR presentation, Prof Coukos kindly spoke with BSB and in a wide ranging discussion, highlighted some of the innovative clinical trial strategies he is working on to move the cancer immunotherapy field forward in ovarian cancer.

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One of the unintended consequences of the rise of cancer immunotherapy has been the fall in interest from patients who might be candidates for entry into clinical trials for other therapies, such as chemotherapy and targeted agents, for example.

St Charles Streetcar New OrleansA number of industry friends have uniformally expressed concern over how difficult it has been enroll such trials and bemoaned the broader – and often not anticipated – effect to the extent that some trials have even been terminated.

This situation often occurs, not because of lack of efficacy or severe side effects, but simply a lack of enthusiasm and low accrual rates. Quite a few patients consider chemo to be nothing short of ‘poison’ and don’t want anything to do with it as a result, unless it can be avoided.

Here’s my advice to those in this situation – stop moaning, start re-thinking, and re-positioning your agent in a different light to the investigators who enroll these studies. If they lack heart, in a highly competitive world, you have to stand out and thus, everything flows from the basic rationale of what you’re trying to accomplish.

What exactly do we mean by that?

Yesterday, we discussed one of the rate limiting steps in the cancer immunity cycle – getting more T cells into the tumours so that that subsequent immunotherapy can be even more effective.

One way to do that?

Chemotherapy!

At AACR recently, we came across some intriguing ideas and approaches that are being discussed and explored, which may open many people’s eyes and minds. It rapidly became clear during discussions with several experts that all is not what it seems, and smart companies are already taking advantage of the new science that is emerging as well as a deeper understanding of the underlying biology of how the immune system behaves in cancer patients.

Here, we offer insights from our latest interview with a thought leader in the field for his perspective on how we can improve response rates and outcomes with cancer immunotherapy.

Fair warning: I must confess that it opened my own mind to fresh ideas and different approaches in an unexpected way – you may experience the same sentiments.

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National Harbor, MD – the 2015 annual meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) kicked off today with a series of workshops, and mini-symposia before the main meeting starts on Friday.

It is currently glorious weather for Maryland in November, almost too nice to be indoors, which probably means it’s going to be a cold winter for those who live up North!

National Harbor MD

Of note this afternoon/evening at SITC 2015 was an International Symposium on Cancer Immunotherapy entitled “Today’s Innovators, Tomorrow’s Leaders.”

Organized in collaboration with the World Immunotherapy Council (WIC), the symposium showcased up and coming researchers, each of whom had an expenses paid trip to SITC to present their work before an audience that included many of the “great and good” in cancer immunotherapy.  It was useful learn from the questions being asked from the floor too, further adding to the value of the session.

Dr Bernard Fox SITC 2015

@BernardAFox introduces the International Cancer Symposium and acknowledges the vision behind it.

Dr Bernard A Fox (@BernardAFox), a past President of SITC, in his introduction acknowledged the vision behind it, and in particular, the contribution of Dr Nora Disis (@DrNDisis). Those of you who listen to Novel Targets Podcast heard her in the most recent show.

SITC WIC International SymposiumToday’s daily highlights post offers a few of my “take homes” from this afternoon. It doesn’t discuss unpublished data but some of the presenters went into more detail about posters they are presenting later this week which was interesting.

The symposium was highly enjoyable and well worth attending. Hopefully, it will be repeated at next year’s SITC annual meeting.

Tomorrow here in National Harbor, I’m looking forward to the workshop on new perspective for target antigens in the changing immunotherapy landscape. That will be the subject of tomorrow’s daily digest. Stay tuned!

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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.

Chicago City View

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:

  • Neratinib
  • Bavituximab
  • Gilead
  • Enzalutamide
  • MDSCs

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One interesting aspect of the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting was the surprise many people expressed in conversations that chemotherapy might actually be useful in combination with checkpoint inhibitors.

You see, several years ago when we first started writing about this new class of agents, I remember vividly how quite a few analysts grumbled on social media or sent me snarky personal messages when it was even suggested that this — along with combinations with existing targeted therapies — might be a worthwhile and valid approach to explore. Clearly they believed that immunotherapies (as monotherapy) were going to be the ultimate panacea.

Not so fast…

There are a number of scientific reasons for combination strategies, but not everyone thinks rationally when new approches come along and their attititude is often ‘out with the old, in with the new!’ It was actually quite amusing to see some of the very same folks in Chicago now eulogising the combination of checkpoint blockade with… chemotherapy in lung, colorectal or even bladder cancer.

One reason why these traditional therapies may be important is because they can influence the tumour microenvironment in both positive and negative ways. That can be helpful for deciding on rational future combinations, rather than just throwing mud at the wall and hoping based on a limited set of data.

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Gumbo Shop New OrleansThe annual meeting of the 2015 American Urological Assoication (AUA) is being held in New Orleans… Yes, we’re on the third and final leg of our Louisiana trip encompassing AAI, ASGCT and now the triumvirate of AUA-SBUR-SUO.

This morning, I attended the Urologic Oncology Research Symposium, “High impact science in urologic oncology and progress in biomedical imaging.”  In particular, I was keen to hear about the latest research in urothelial bladder cancer (UBC) with regards to checkpoint blockade with anti-PDL1 and PD-1 therapies.

In the past, any session on bladder cancer guaranteed the lucky (or hapless) presenters with an audience of a dozen or so people.  Not any more – the room was packed with standing room only very quickly – a nice change for a disease that has seen no new therapies for 30 years.

Part of this renewed enthusiasm is due to the excitement for the checkpoint therapies making a huge impact in this disease, at least in clinical trials to date. While waiting for the session to start, one urologist I spoke to told me he bought the ASCO Virtual Meeting last year just to hear Dr Tom Powles talk on anti-PDL1 therapy with MPDL3280A in advanced urothelial cancer. What did you think of it, I asked?

“Wow, just wow!”

Later this month an update on the more mature data from that phase I trial is due at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) from Dr Daniel Petrylak (Yale)… who just happened to be one of the presenters at AUA this morning.

He discussed the checkpoint data with atezolizumab (MPDL3280A) in urothelial bladder cancer, as well as the pembrolizumab data from ESMO last fall and what’s happening with nivolumab. These drugs are quite different in many ways, not just in terms of the efficacy, but also in terms of the biomarker data, as we discovered today.

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