Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘metastatic melanoma’

The Shard from River ThamesMuch has been written about the impact of cancer immunotherapies, particularly the twin pillars of checkpoint blockade and CAR T cell therapies, but beyond that lies a huge wealth of alternative approaches that may come in very useful indeed.

Just as we have seen oncogenic escape witth targeted therapies, there is also a related phenomenon called immune escape. Likewise, this can occur as either primary or secondary resistance.

It’s very important to consider this issue, because, after all, the vast majority of cancer patients with solid tumours do NOT see durable clinical benefit with immunotherapies when given as single agents. Some don’t respond at all (primary resistance), while others may see an initial response, then relapse (secondary resistance).

Understanding the mechanisms involved in resistance may help us design better combination trials to address the underlying biology as well as develop biomarkers to help select appropriate patients for each regimen. Clearly resistance can vary, not only by tumour type, but also by lesion and patient, making it a very complex situation to research.

Some interesting new information has recently come to light that is worthy of futher discussion and analysis, particularly in the context of other published data in this niche.

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Aduro Biotech LogoWe’re almost at the end of our coverage of AACR 2016. Post number 30 (!!) is on Aduro Biotech ($ADRO) and their STING (Stimulator of interferon genes) agonist currently in development.

On the final day of AACR, in a packed session chaired by Tom Gajewski, MD PhD (Chicago), the meeting heard from Tom W. Dubensky, Jr, PhD Chief Scientific Officer of Aduro Biotech in a presentation (SY39-02) entitled:

“Direct activation of STING in the tumor microenvironment leads to potent and systemic tumor regression and immunity.”

Dr Tom Dubensky Aduro CSO

Dr Tom Dubensky, Aduro CSO

I spoke with Dr Dubensky (pictured) afterwards. In my interview recording you can hear Vice President Biden’s cavalcade arrive at the Ernest Morial convention center in New Orleans for his plenary presentation.

Since AACR 2016, Aduro announced that the first patient has been dosed with ADU-S100 (MIW815) in a May 12 press release.  This triggered a $35M milestone payment from Novartis, who are undertaking the clinical trial (NCT02675439).

In March 2015, Aduro entered a collaboration with Novartis that, according to the Aduro press release, led to an initial payment of $200M and an additional $50M in equity investment.

After the recent failure of their pancreatic cancer vaccine, announced in a May 16 press release, there is a lot riding on ADU-S100 for both Aduro and Novartis.

I had the privilege to interview Dr Gajewski last year at Immunity 2015, where we talked about his work on STING (see post: Tom Gajewski takes the STING out of cancer). You can hear a short excerpt from the interview on Episode 2 of the Novel Targets Podcast.

So a year later it’s a good time to return to the STING pathway and take a fresh look at what Aduro/Novartis are doing.

For this post, I’ve chosen to write this up as a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of ADU-S100 based on what I learnt at AACR from talking with Dr Dubensky and other experts.

Your SWOT analysis of ADU-S100 may be different from mine, you may have access to other sources of information, an alternative opinion, or reach an entirely different conclusion. There is no right or wrong answer. We all view the world through our own individual bias and lens.

Before you read this post, I heartily encourage you to map out on the “back of an envelope” – or as I’d say in England, on the “back of a fag packet” – what your SWOT analysis looks like. That way you can compare yours to mine.

By definition, we’re dealing with a new product in early clinical development, where many questions remain unanswered. It’s always easier to see the picture after all the cards have been dealt……

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Last month’s Biotech Strategy mailbag – where we answer questions from subscribers – turned out to be rather controversial with strong feelings running in several camps on Puma Biotech’s neratinib in breast cancer.

This time around we have a bunch of questions on completely different topics and compounds to cover:

  • BRAF plus MEK and/or immunotherapy in BRAFV600 metastatic melanoma
  • Immunogen’s IMGN853 – now known as mirvetuximab soravtansine – in platinum resistant ovarian cancer
  • AbbVie/Genentech’s ABT–199/GDC–0199 venetoclax

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We know from preclinical research that immunosuppressive tumour microenvironments can restrain anti-tumour immunity, thereby making subsequent therapeutic interventions less effective than expected. CD40 activation has been shown to reverse immune suppression and drive antitumor T cell responses, which in turn could lead to potentially better outcomes.

What happens when patients with advanced melanoma are given a checkpoint inhibitor plus an immune agonist such as anti-CD40?

Can we help the non-responding patients to checkpoint blockade improve their outcomes and shift the long tail in survival curves up using this approach?

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With the news hot off the press at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) that Merck’s pembrolizumab (Keytruda) beat out BMS’s ipilimumab (Yervoy) in advanced melanoma, quite a few readers wrote in asking whether this signals the end for ipilimumab?

The short answer is no, and here’s why…

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Over the last few years we’ve heard a lot about the evaluation of predictive biomarkers for checkpoint inhibitors, in particular the value of using PD-L1, whether on immune or tumour cells, as a way of separating responders and non-responders to therapy with anti-PD1 or anti-PDL1 blockers. The results to date have been mixed, with some KOLs concluding that smoking history or number of mutations was more useful in lung cancer and others believing that their assay has better utility.

Some cynical observers I’ve come across have even asserted that companies don’t want to see biomarkers emerge because that then limits their opportunity for patients being treated. Ouch! I don’t believe this to be true, it’s highly complex science and there is much about the healthy immune system that we still don’t know, never mind under more complex situations such as cancer. This is an ever-evolving field about which we still have much learn.

Eventually, we may see further refinement of these approaches, at least in some tumour types and I’m particularly looking forward to hearing more about those advances at ASCO and ASH later this year when the clinical and translational work is more mature.

Next month heralds the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). As we noted in our first AACR Preview on Immunotherapy last week, it’s the first time immunotherapy has literally dominated a largely preclinical and scientific program of this nature.

Over the next week or two, will be be highlighting and explaining some of the emerging trends in more detail.

On the important topic of biomarkers, one new approach particularly caught my eye in the abstracts that were released yesterday is worthy of further discussion since it could have important implications to future clinical approaches.

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Over the last two years we’ve written extensively about chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies, checkpoint inhibitors and immune agonists (stimulants), yet these aren’t the only novel immunotherapies that are being developed to target cancer cells.

One area that hasn’t received a lot of attention is adoptive cell transfer (ACT) and therapeutic tumour infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs).

  • What exactly are these approaches and what progress has taken place so far?
  • Where is this field going in the near future?

Rosenberg ASH14 TIL PresentationTo answer these questions, we put together a primer based on the groundbreaking research of Dr Steven Rosenberg (NCI Surgical Branch), and his invited talk at the recent American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting.

As Rosenberg himself noted, what they’re doing is pretty daunting and yet, results so far have shown some impressive responses in some patients, especially those with metastatic melanoma, but other cancers have also responded well to this novel approach.

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