Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘pembrolizumab’

The 2016 Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) is fast approaching. It takes place next month from October 7th to 11th and we will be on site covering the meeting for Biotech Strategy Blog. We’re looking forward to a great meeting!

ESMO 2016 CongressIf you are sitting on the fence as to whether you should go to Copenhagen, then hopefully our series of Previews will help you decide.

Be warned that accommodation is in already in short supply and ESMO are now putting people up across the Oresund bridge in Malmo, Sweden.

The Congress App has a lot of useful information and is well worth downloading, if you haven’t done so already.

Last week many of the late breaking abstract (LBA) titles were announced, although there are still some placeholders. While we won’t know the actual late-breaking data until the meeting, the LBA titles offer insights into what will be presented in Copenhagen.

In the second in our ESMO 2016 Preview series, we’re highlighting the lung cancer late breakers that we’re looking forward to hearing, providing some background on why they may be of interest, and a look at how some of subset landscapes may be a-changing in the future.

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BioTwitter is all a-flutter today with the announcement from BMS that the CheckMate–026 trial in first line non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) comparing nivolumab (Opdivo) to chemotherapy did NOT meet its primary endpoint of progression-free survival (PFS).

The news was not entirely a surprise to us at BSB, here’s why…

Figurative statute representing Science on Holborn Viaduct in City of London.

Figurative statute representing Science on Holborn Viaduct in City of London.

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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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It’s been very clear for over four years now that combinations were going to be necessary if we want to a larger number of deeper and more durable responses than can attained with monotherapy.  Gradually, we are starting to see early and very preliminary readouts with some of the trials in progress.

We are also learning very quickly that it’s going to be a case of #notalltumours and #notallsubsets.

ASCO 2016 Posters 2

Another very busy poster session at #ASCO16!

By this, I mean we obviously can’t take a one-combination-fits-all approach for all tumour types.

We need to be able to classify patients into more homogenous subsets and then devise different combinations or even sequences that address the underlying biology of both the cancer itself and also the tumour microenvironment.  That’s going to take a while to sort out, perhaps even years.

Let’s not forget though that in the meantime, we can gather information quite a few clues both preclinically, as well as from initial clinical studies.  Sometimes, after all, we even learn more from negative trials than positive ones. This is an area that is ripe for combinations with traditional targeted therapies, the question is which ones are promising and why?

We took a look at the landscape in SCCH&N and how this might evolve over time in the medium term, with future opportunities, that can be explored in rational combination approaches.

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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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We’ve noticed for a while now that trials involving immunotherapies have not just standard adverse events reported, but also immune related adverse events (irAEs).  We saw these articulately in combination trials at ASCO earlier this month.

Most of these have involved colitis, hepatitis, pneumonitis and such like. If the signs and symptoms are picked up early through careful monitoring and education, these can be more easily managed and controlled.

What about auto-immune diseases?

Is there a risk of auto-immune disease with long term use usage of checkpoint blockade, especially in situations where patients may be treated until progression, which could be a long time if the patient is one of the lucky ones who get a durable complete response?

In today’s post we take a look at these issues. To learn more, subscribers can log in or you can sign up in the blue box below:

ASCO 2016 Collective WisdomContinuing part two of our mini-series on colorectal cancer, today we move from the big scale Immunoscore study to small subsets of disease that are looking interesting in several ways.

For years, advanced colorectal cancer has been dominated by chemotherapy (FOLFOX or FOLFIRI) with and without targeted therapies (VEGF and EGFR antibodies), with very little new to talk about. Part of the challenge here is how do you add something the existing standard of care and move the needle significantly. In front-line, for example, the OS is already out 2-plus years, so these are long and risky trials to undertake. Not surpisingly, many companies have sought to evaluate their agents in tumour types where they consider the risk of development to be lower.

Unless… we can find creative approaches that turn the paradigm on its head and identify a clearly defined niche that can be carved out separately from allcomers.

This is where we’re at now – identifying subsets that might respond exquisitely to novel approaches based on a rational understanding of the underlying biology.  One obvious subset might be BRAF, which can be treated with a BRAF inhibitor with or without other targeted therapies as Dr Pietrantonio and colleagues (2016) literally just showed for example, but what about others of potential interest?

Colorectal cancer with microsatellite stable (MSS) disease represents 95% of metastatic patients. These are people whose mismatched repair system is proficient and actively functional in fixing the DNA strand breaks that occur during the course of life.

In contrast, those with microsatellite instability (MSI) are the minority of people with colon cancer (and some other cancers too) whose mismatched repair system is deficient and unable to adequately repair the DNA strand breaks. Ironically, this leads to thousands of mutations that can be recognised by the immune system to help detect the presence of cancer. It also tends to occur in hereditary cancers such as Lynch Syndrome.

We’ve been following the MSI vs MSS story for a while now, but at ASCO this year there was more data available and things appear to be getting clearer on the commercial front too.

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One of the exciting developments in metastatic urothelial carcers of late has been the emergence of checkpoint blockade with some very encouraging signs of durable clinical activity. Urothelial cancers comprise a group of urinary tract tumours including bladder, penile, ureter etc, although most trials tend to enroll bladder cancer patients, where there is a high unmet medical need.

Chicago John Hancock Center View

View from the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center, Chicago

This year alone has seen the FDA grant AstraZeneca with breakthrough therapy designation for durvalumab in February, while Genentech/Roche subsequently received approval for atezolizumab (Tecentriq) based on phase 2 data on May 18th.

To put these developments in context, the last FDA approval in metastatic urothelial carcinoma was almost 4 decades ago in 1978 for the chemotherapy cisplatin!

As is often the case in Pharmaland, once one company starts exploring a therapy in a given tumour type, others will quickly follow. Already we have several immunotherapy agents being evaluated in urothelial carcinoma both in early and metastatic disease, so what can we learn from the data presented at ASCO last week and where is the landscape going in the future?

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Lung cancer, along with metastatic melanoma, has been very much to the forefront of attention in cancer immunotherapies with both nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) garnering approval as monotherapy from the FDA in second line treatment of NSCLC. A third molecule, atezolizumab (Tecentriq) has also been submitted to the authorities for this indication and a decision is expected soon.

Morgan Grafitti Wall

Street art in the Chicago West Loop

While no one is in any doubt that the response rates with monotherapy are low (in the 20% range) and the majority of people do not respond, the important thing so far is that when they do, they appear to be very durable responses. People are living longer, much longer than the 2–3 months of incremental improvement we are used to seeing with chemotherapy or targeted therapies.

The race is now on to see how we can improve things for the 80% of people with lung cancer who don’t respond to single agent therapy:

  • What can we do to help them?
  • Which combinations look more encouraging?
  • Should we treat beyond progression?

To answer these questions, we interviewed Dr Stephen Liu and discussed his views on some of the cancer immunotherapy combination studies presented at ASCO last week.

Dr Stephen Liu

Dr Stephen Liu at ASCO 2016

Dr Liu is a lung cancer expert at the Lombardi Cancer Centre at Georgetown University, and is actively involved in numerous clinical trials, particularly in Developmental Therapeutics.

Georgetown’s founding principle is Cura Personalis, which translates as care of the whole person. It “suggests individualized attention to the needs of others, distinct respect for unique circumstances and concerns, and an appropriate appreciation for singular gifts and insights.”

Dr Liu embodies this ideal, advocating for his patients for access to the best research advances, including genomics and clinical trials of promising agents.  At ASCO, he kindly highlighted some of the important findings from Chicago and offered context on why they matter to the field.

He told us one combination was “potentially transformative” and could be “practice changing” in lung cancer with more data.

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We have selected five key strategic trends that are emerging that will be critical to follow, understand, and even implement if you are on the coal-face of clinical research and new product development.

ASCO16 Chicago 5We aren’t talking about financial things such as cost toxicity, or even how doctors should be paid, but meaty scientific aspects that we need to watch out for. If we are going to improve on cancer research and R&D in the future, these issues will be important.

For companies and academic researchers alike, there is much to learn from the tsunami of data that hit this week if you have a keen interest in the field and a bent for making sense of patterns out of an amorphous mass of data.

Not paying attention to evolution in clinical development can mean the difference between being in the winners circle, on the outside looking in, or falling way behind your competitors. Playing catch up is never anyone’s idea of fun in this market – oncology moves at a lightning fast pace compared to many other therapy areas.

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