Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘MEK’

September 1st… as the hot summer floats away from London town and cooler autumn days draw in, it’s time to think about the upcoming fall cancer conference season – it’s quite a busy one this year!

In the coming weeks, I will be rolling out our series on the ESMO 2016 Previews (Twitter #ESMO16) and taking a more in-depth look at various topics of interest. The Copenhagen meeting is later than usual and also more compressed, with numerous sessions now held simultaneously. It used to be that you could take a break between key sessions, but not any more – there’s a lot going on this year.

View of Thames BarrierOne of the things that jumped out to me from a preliminary review of this year’s hectic ESMO program is an interesting novel target that had some early preclinical data at AACR, but that sadly got lost in the tsunami of data there.

It is good to have that reminder and be able to return to it in the context of broader data because overcoming barriers to drug resistance with targeted therapies is still an important issue that is worth researching.

You likely won’t see it in many analyst reports or previews, however, although it’s a hidden gem of great interest and well worth exploring in terms of what we know so far. This means that readers will be both prepared and intrigued – don’t be surprised to hear about some BD&L deals in this niche in the future.

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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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The ASCO 2014 season kicks off with the release of the embargo on main abstracts (other than the late breakers and plenary sessions) yesterday evening. Over the next week, I’m planning to cover some of the highlights (positive and negative) that I found interesting or worthwhile discussing. While there was nothing particularly earth shattering or new in the press briefing at lunch time yesterday, that’s not to say there aren’t some important data this year buried amongst the 5000+ abstracts.

Today I’m driving to Orlando and on Friday will be at the American Urological Association (AUA) meeting, so a lighter post will appear here on BSB regarding my initial topline highlights and lowlights tomorrow.

I decided to kick off the ASCO Previews first and focus on an altogether different topic, one that we’ve covered longitudinally on either PSB and BSB – originally with some scientific and translational data – and now with some initial clinical trials that look pretty encouraging thus far. The bench-to-bedside transition is often fraught with many challenges, but occasionally, they actually turn out quite well in practice.

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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.

Every year at AACR meetings there seems to be a new update on how researchers are doing with their work on overcoming resistance in metastatic melanoma. We’ve seen some stunning photos where targeting the BRAF V600E mutation with a specific kinase inhibitor such as vemurafenib (Zelboraf) or dabrafenib (Tafinlar) results in dramatic reduction, and sometimes even complete disappearance of the lesions, only for resistance to set in and the melanoma sadly comes back with a vengeance. Adding a MEK inhibitor such as trametinib (Mekinist) was originally thought to be a rather promising strategy, until it became clear that this only gave a few extra months with exactly the same result.

Over on Pharma Strategy Blog, I’ve written a lot about the fascinating research on various mechanisms of resistance in this disease. They range from specific mutations emerging to activation of COT or MEK and others in response to therapy. There are a number of questions we can ask that need to be addressed:

  • Do we need a better/more potent BRAF inhibitor?
  • Do we need a better/more potent MEK inhibitor?
  • What other combinations and targets can be explored?
  • Is timing and dosing important? (e.g. continuous vs. intermittent dosing)
  • And many others…

Bill Sellers VP Global Head Oncology Novartis Institutes for BioMedical ResearchAt the recent AACR Molecular Targets meeting in Boston I chatted with Dr Bill Sellers, who is the Global Head of Oncology Research at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR) and oversees the drug discovery efforts in this space for Novartis.

Yesterday we highlighted NIBR’s work with CDK4/6 inhibition in breast cancer, but this compound may have surprising utility in metastatic melanoma.

Novartis also have several other melanoma agents in their pipeline in the clinic, including a BRAF inhibitor (LGX818), a MEK inhibitor (MEK162) and more recently, an Mdm2 inhibitor (CGM097) in preclinical development.

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