Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘PD-1’

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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I was thinking that the reader mailbag questions this week would be full of straightforward easy to answer clinical questions, after all, they usually are post ASH and ASCO… but not this year!

T-cells attacking a cancer cell. Digital illustration.

T-cells attacking a cancer cell. Digital illustration.

Instead, there is a huge wall of intense focus on CAR T cell therapies and the latest round of intriguing developments in this space.  While CARs have received much attention, TCR cell products have largely flown under the radar to date, although that may change.

What’s particularly interesting is that these charges could potentially be transformative or absolute duds – it’s unlikely to be an indifferent middle ground here.

Here, we answer questions on the ever-increasingly complex science that is ongoing in the TCR and CAR T cell fields.

In the next mailbag, we will cover the clinical questions arising from data at ASCO, so if you have any queries on the data in Chicago, there’s still time to send them in before next Friday!

If you are interested in the new developments in the complex world of gene editing and how they may impact the ever-changing adoptive cell therapy space, then this article is for you.  Subscribers can log-in below or you can click the Blue Box to nab instant access!

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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Port Sunglight SpringSpring has arrived in many parts of the world, and with it I am always reminded of William Wordsworth’s classic poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud:”

I wandered lonely as a cloud 
That floats on high o’er vales and hills, 
When all at once I saw a crowd, 
A host, of golden daffodils; 
Beside the lake, beneath the trees, 
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

 

So what does the future hold for cancer immunotherapy?

Inspired by Wordsworth, I’ve sat on my cloud and have looked at some of the recent review papers and thought pieces published by experts in the field. Do they offer a Jerry Maguire – like mission statement: “The Things We Think and Do Not Say: The Future of Our Business” or will we have to wait till AACR 2016 in New Orleans to learn more?

 

This is the latest in our pre-AACR 2016 annual meeting series. Subscribers can login to read more or you can purchase access below.

In the last of our American Society of Hematology (ASH) 2015 annual meeting previews, we take a broad look at a host of intriguing abstracts in a variety of different topics that haven’t been covered in the rest of the series.

We also take a look a drug that has had a chequered history in the past, namely venetoclax, from the folks at AbbVie and Genentech. Is this a dud destined for dog drug heaven, or will it make a roaring comeback, breathing fresh life into hematologic malignancies such as chronic and acute leukemias, lymphomas and even multiple myeloma?

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As we wrap up our AACR coverage, I can’t believe it’s already time to discuss the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting already – it seems to come around way too fast.

Over the last few years, we’ve reported on the rapid and impressive rise of innate, adoptive and adaptive immunotherapies in cancer research and wondered how long it would take before we see such data presented in the plenary session.  That actually happens this year… finally!

Fireworks River Thames

A checkpoint trial makes the ASCO 2015 Plenary!

It does look like 2015 is the year that checkpoint inhibitors cannot be ignored for plenary selection with the wealth at data available at first AACR and now ASCO emerging.

This is no bad thing, especially given these drugs can affect the long tail of survival and are really starting to impact the dismal 5-year survival rates in metastatic melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Beyond those two tumour types, what else can we expect to see and how is the data likely to shape up?  We took a look at the abstracts available based on the titles only, the actual abstracts themselves come out next week.

What did we find?

You can check out our first Preview on the Top 10 immunotherapy trials with checkpoint blockade by signing up or logging in the box below…

After yesterdays post on Gems from the Poster Halls at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Philadelphia where we took a look at new developments in targeted therapies, several subscribers asked for a repeat, but with a focus on immuno-oncology.

AACR 2015 Checkpoint Inhibitor PostersThere are a number of elements that many people are interested in, especially given the Merck and BMS clinical data at AACR, where we clearly saw that:

  • Anti-PD–1 therapy with pembrolizumab is superior to anti-CTLA4 with ipilimumab in metastatic melanoma (expect nivolumab to show the same thing at ASCO)
  • Combined PD–1 plus CTLA4 blockade (with nivolumab plus ipilimumab) was superior to anti-CTLA4 alone, but with higher grade 3/4 toxicities, also in advanced melanoma

Sadly though, we still see that 70-80% of patients don’t respond to these therapies.

  • How can we improve on that?
  • What happens when we explore other factors, tumour types and different aspects of the immune system?
  • What can we learn about novel sequencing or combination approaches?
  • Which ones look interesting?

Endless questions can be asked – to which we still have too few answers – although there were some encouraging signs and hints of possibilities at AACR.

The 2015 AACR program was particularly challenging this year with lots of really good symposia and general sessions, making it tough to whizz round the vast poster hall spread out around the exhibits as well.  To give you an idea of scale, it was pretty typical to cover 17K to 18K steps a day, approximately 7 to 8 miles.  For many people, fitting in a quick lunch and the posters was certainly a challenging feat, depending where you were in the complex.  With a morning session ending at 12.30pm, the afternoon session starting at 1pm and 2,000 steps between the Grand and Terrace Ballrooms, you sure had to get your skates on, Beep Beep!

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Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen a lot of new targeted agents approved in a variety of different tumour types. Of the big five cancers (breast, lung, melanoma, prostate, and colorectal) one clearly stands out as missing out on exciting new developments in the last 5 years.

In fact, we haven’t really seen anything startlingly new in the colorectal cancer (CRC) space since 2004, when the FDA approved cetuximab (Erbitux) and bevacizumab (Avastin) to much fanfare a few weeks apart at the beginning of that year. Sure, there have been other EGFR and VEGF inhibitors approved since, including panitumumab (Vectibix), z-aflibercept (Zaltrap) and regorafenib (Stivarga) in various lines of therapy, but you could argue that they’re all more of the same (type of inhibitors) and incremental in their improvements, rather truly game changing or disruptive.

Why is this? Why the discrepancy?

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One of my favourite sessions at any cancer conference is the science symposia, although they go under many different guises and names. At the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) they are known as Special Symposia and conceptually are very similar to Clinical Science Symposia at ASCO.

ESMO 2014Here at these sessions, top thought leaders in the space debate and lecture on key issues of the day. They’re usually packed with information and are well worth attending, even in a hectic schedule.

Interestingly, immuno-oncology has a dominant focus on the program for the first time since I’ve been attending ECCO/ESMO events over the last dozen years or so, demonstrating how quickly it is being assimilated into the scientific and clinical consciousness.  Years ago, I attended a session on autologous cell therapies (ACT) and there were maybe a handful of us in the room.  In Madrid, I doubt if there will be 12 empty seats in the theatre and it will probably be what Pharmaland calls SRO – standing room only.

So what can we learn from the announced sessions this year?

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Today I thought it would be a good idea to answer a question sent in by a premium subscriber.  He asked,

“What’s the deal with TIL and how does that relate to checkpoint inhibitors and PD-L1 expression?”

This is a good question and there were some interesting top-line debates about this at AACR recently, which are well worth discussing and highlighting.

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