Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘ovarian cancer’

One of the surprising things I learned over the summer was how many people misunderstand how advanced ovarian cancer is treated as a disease… it isn’t really one disease to start with, but is actually a series of subsets depending on the molecular underpinnings and also how women with the condition react to therapy.

Imagine then, when we see a series of press releases and abstracts emerge on PARP inhibitors followed by a rather indecent and sudden rush to judgment by Wall St and investors on the ‘Winner takes All’ out of the lot?

Except that real life doesn’t work that way in clinical practice.

A head/desk moment to be sure, and a frustrating one for those who understand what this is actually all about. To address this siituation, we had the pleasure of communicating with KOLs remotely or sitting down with several thought leaders in gynecologic cancer in Copenhagen to debate various aspects relating to current treatment paradigms, new clinical trial data with PARPs, and what they are most excited about going forward.

Copenhagen Waterfront

Copenhagen Waterfront

Today’s post highlights our latest thought leader interview with an experienced GYN oncologist and their perspectives on the rucaparib and niraparib data presented earlier this month at ESMO.

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One of the surprise controversies at ESMO16 was the fall-out between Myriad Genetics (NASDAQ: MYGN) and Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO) over whether the company’s PARP inhibitor, niraparib, should require a companion diagnostic for the treatment of women with platinum-sensitive ovarian cancer in the maintenance setting. We previously wrote about this from Copenhagen (Link).



Tesaro were so keen on controlling their message, in the run-up to ESMO, they even went to the trouble of taking out a legal injunction against Myriad Genetics in an attempt to prevent them publishing their own press release discussing the niraparib data.

We knew about this “off the record” at ESMO, but it’s now a matter of public knowledge and John Carroll admirably reported the story on Endpoints last week (Link).

It is a sad reflection on any biotech partnership or pharma alliance if you can’t reach an agreement in private, and have to resort to an injunction in US Federal Court. Doubly unfortunate when you lose the injunction too!

As many readers are already aware, back in June 2014 AstraZeneca failed to convince an FDA ODAC about the merits of olaparib in the same indication that Tesaro are seeking. This is why the data for Tesaro and their regulatory/commercial approach justifies careful scrutiny.

What’s more, data from Myriad Genetics was key to AstraZeneca obtaining a subsequent indication for olaparib in more advanced ovarian cancer, so their experience in this space cannot be dismissed.


Johnathan M. Lancaster MD PhD

At ESMO, the Myriad Genetics Laboratory Chief Medical Officer, Dr Johnathan Lancaster kindly spoke to BSB.

He shared his perspective on the niraparib data and why a companion diagnostic should be considered based on the NOVA trial data presented by Dr Mansoor Mirza. You can read more about the data in The NEJM paper that was published simultaneously (Link).

Dr Lancaster was formerly Director of the Center for Women’s Oncology, and Chair of the Department of Women’s Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

While he does bring a corporate bias based on his position at Myriad Genetics Laboratories – and Myriad clearly have a vested interest in selling diagnostic tests – his clinical perspective is worthy of consideration and it’s one that is shared by other GYN oncology thought leaders we have spoken to (see: earlier post, “what Tesaro aren’t telling you about niraparib”).

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Copenhagen – it’s the end of Day 2 of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), which this year had a record-breaking 20,239 attendees.


Three of the presentations in today’s plenary Presidential Symposium were simultaneously published in The New England Journal of Medicine – I haven’t seen that happen before.

All three were also featured in this morning’s media briefing in Copenhagen.

  • Ribociclib as First-Line Therapy for HR-Positive, Advanced Breast Cancer (NEJM link)
  • Prolonged Survival in Stage III Melanoma with ipilimumab Adjuvant Therapy (NEJM link)
  • Niraparib Maintenance Therapy in Platinum-Sensitive, Recurrent Ovarian Cancer (NEJM link)

In today’s daily digest there’s top-line commentary and insights from some of the sessions we attended. In a separate post, we have already discussed the niraparib data.

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westminster-embankmentToday’s news that an FDA Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) review will not be required for rucaparib is good news for Clovis Oncology. The company announced this via an SEC 8K filing:

“The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has notified Clovis Oncology, Inc. that FDA is not currently planning to hold an advisory committee meeting to discuss the Company’s New Drug Application for rucaparib.”

However, given the unmet medical need in ovarian cancer, a lot of companies are targeting both platinum sensitive and platinum resistant disease.

In our fourth preview of the forthcoming European Society for Medical Oncology (#ESMO16) meeting we’re looking at 9 key ovarian cancer abstracts to watch out for at ESMO.

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Prof Fran Balkwill Barts Cancer InstituteWhen it comes to cancer immunotherapy drug development, one of the challenges is that we can’t accurately predict from preclinical mouse models what will happen in people. The result is a rush into the clinic to test in human subjects.

We do need better preclinical models, which is why it was interesting to hear recently on an episode of Health Check (BBC World Service) about a 3D tumour model that is being developed at Barts Cancer Institute.

Professor Fran Balkwill (pictured), who leads the Centre for Cancer and Inflammation, kindly spoke to BSB about the work she and colleagues are doing to model the tumour microenvironment (TME) in high-grade serous ovarian cancer.

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Tesaro’s niraparib is a highly selective poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) 1/2 inhibitor that can induce synthetic lethality in tumor cells with homologous recombination DNA repair deficiencies (HRD), including germline BRCA-mutated tumours.  It received a lot of attention yesterday following the company’s announcement that the phase 3 trial successfully met its primary endpoint.  The trial was expected to readout this month, so it was bang on schedule.

ASCO 2016 Posters 5

Braving the scrum in the ASCO 2016 poster hall

The results generated a lot of discussion and also a bunch (half a dozen!) of questions from readers, since there was a lot noise around the top-line data in the press release, but very little real analysis or context.

I was planning on rolling out the draft posts we have been working on Gems from the Poster Halls, which included one focused on ovarian cancer.  It therefore makes sense to combine the poster analysis with a reader Q&A on ovarian cancer, including a detailed look at Tesaro’s niraparib as there are some important subtleties that many have missed.

Inevitably this ended up as a rather meaty analysis rather than the quick review I originally intended!

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For years we’ve followed the trials and tribulations of targeted therapies seeing many approved and quite a few disappear forlornly (and officially) off to dog drug heaven. Many more sit in no-man’s land as companies eagerly wait in a holding pattern for other trial readouts in different tumour types. Sadly, sometimes these studies don’t generate enough compelling data either. With so much competition about, there are no shortcuts or low-hanging fruit in biotech or cancer drug development any more.

ASCO16 Chicago 1

En route to Chicago and ASCO!

Then along came antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), with some encouraging results in a range of cancers in both solid tumours and hematologic malignancies that lead to the approval of several new therapies.

After that, the next big advance was immunotherapies, specifically checkpoint blockade, with encouraging single agent activity in melanoma, lung, and even urothelial bladder cancer. We’ve also seen the promise fo combining two different checkpoints such as nivolumab and ipilimumab together in metastatic melanoma, albeit with an increase in toxicities.

This is all very well and good, although the challenge remains that the majority of patients either respond to therapy and relapse, or do not respond at all, depending on the circumstances, the tumour type and the regimen. We still have a long way to go in moving the needle and creating a new paradigm shift on a broad scale.

So what happens when we start to combine modalities – such as targeted therapies with immunotherapies?

Uh-oh, I hear the distant cries of disagreement erupt…

  • Remember vemurafenib plus ipilimumab in metastatic melanoma was scuppered by severe hepatitis?
  • What about osimertinib plus durvalumab in NSCLC and the increased incidence of ILD?

Both of these statements are true, and yet… we should not assume that all mixed therapy combination approaches are doomed on the basis of a mere n of 2. What happens if some are synergistic or additive? What happens of there are hidden gems that teach us new ways of doing things rather than doing the same old thing just because it’s always been done that way?

With this in mind, I’d like to open the door on our first ASCO 2016 Preview series with a look at novel combination approaches in development that caught my eye.

What are the early hints and signals that we can learn from the data? Which companies are evaluating imaginative new ideas that may turn the tables on traditional thinking?  The ideas discussed here may well surprise a few people.

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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 thing has become very clear in the oncology space over the last year… checkpoint inhibitors are insufficient on their own for the vast majority of tumour types and patients that they have been explored in to date.  There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is lack of T cells in the tumour, which enable an effective immune response to be mounted.

This begs the question – how can we address that issue and manipulate the tumour microenvironment in our favour, thereby making subsequent checkpoint blockade more effective?

There are a number of different ways to do this.

In the past, we’ve discussed several methods including innate immunotherapies such as Aduro’s STING or Biothera’s immunotherapeutic, Imprime PGG.  Other approaches include vaccines, which we have discussed in detail, t-cell receptors (TCR) or even monoclonal antibodies, such as AdaptImmune’s approach with their ImmTac technology.

There are other novel strategies currently being investigated by numerous companies too.

In this article – and also the second part of the latest miniseries – which will post tomorrow, we straddle our final reviews of interesting data from the European Cancer Conference (ECC) in Vienna with the upcoming one from the Society of Immunotherapy for Cancer (SITC) being held in National Harbor, Maryland.

Today’s post explores the concept of immunocytokines, engineered antibodies that are designed to boost the immune system, so that subsequent therapies will be more effective.

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Beyond the late breaking abstracts and plenary sessions at the European Cancer Conference being held in Vienna, Austria later this month, what other important topics can we expect to hear about?

ECCO 2015 Vienna

We covered the former in the last article on Biotech Strategy Blog, today we turn our attention to the proffered (oral) sessions and what we can learn from those sessions and the expected data that is due to be presented.

There are a number of interesting topics and new data slated for presentation that are worthy of review and highlighting in a What To Watch out For (W2W4) format.

Here’s our take on the potential highlights at the meeting.

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