As we move from monotherapies to combinations in the immuno-oncology space, we start to see some intriguing ideas being explored from additional checkpoints to vaccines to neoantigens to immune agonists to oncolytic viruses. There are numerous ways to evaluate how to boost or jumpstart more immune cells upfront in the hope of seeing better efficacy.
One way to do this is to better understand the tumour microenvironment.
Wall of people at ASH16 in San Diego
If we know what’s wrong under the hood, we might be better able to make the immune system get going… more gas, faulty starter motor, dead battery, loose wire, broken fan belt? All these things and more might be a problem so you can see that diagnosing the issue up from from basic and translational work might be instructive for clinical trials.
If you don’t know what problem you’re trying to fix or repair then you might as well be throwing mud at the wall. Just as we don’t expect a car mechanic to suggest changing the battery or starter-motor without first diagnosing the issue, so understanding the tumour microenvironment in each different cancer or disease might also be a helpful strategy.
At the recent American Society of Hematology annual meeting (#ASH16), there was a fascinating sceintifc workshop that focused on this very concept – what’s going on under the hood and how do we go about fixing it?
Here we explore these ideas via an interview with a thought leader and specialist in the field. What he had to say was very interesting and candid indeed.
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Holbrook Kohrt MD PhD (pictured right) is a Stanford medical oncologist and clinical researcher who is leading the way in cancer immunotherapy combination strategies targeting CD137 (4-1BB).
He’s a speaker I greatly enjoy listening to at meetings. Earlier this year at The American Association of Immunologists (AAI) annual meeting (Immunology 2015) in New Orleans, he gave a noteworthy presentation on combination monoclonal antibody therapy.
The potential of a combination of an anti-CD137 monoclonal antibody such as urelumab plus an anti-CD20 such as rituximab, was one that he appeared to be particularly excited about.
Dr Kohrt kindly spoke with BSB and shared his thoughts on the potential of immune modulators, which instead of acting as inhibitors to “release the brake,” like checkpoint inhibitors, act as agonists to “step on the gas” and rev up the immune system. This is a concept that many Pharma companies are currently looking to explore for new drug development opportunities, for example:
Source: Roche Media Briefing at ESMO 2014 in Madrid
When it comes to combination strategies, the big unanswered questions are which ones will produce big gains in response rates and survival outcomes, and which ones will be duds?
After all, much like targeted therapies, not all targets will be relevant in all tumour types – it will depend on the underlying immune system.
In New Orleans, Dr Kohrt talked about the potential advantages and concerns around combination strategies and why he’s particularly interested in CD137 as a novel target for immunotherapy.
In-Memorium Holbrook Kohrt
It is with great sadness that we must report that Holbrook Kohrt is no longer with us. He died, aged 38, on February 24, 2016.
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“Nothing lasts forever, because nothing ever has.”
James Shelley, The Caesura Letters
This year’s annual AACR meeting was so good, we could probably write another 50 posts and still not be done! With ASCO fast approaching, however, it’s almost time to draw it to a close and the final post conference note will be published on Monday.
Today is the penultimate report and focuses on the key highlights that caught my attention in immuno-oncology, which covers the gamut from checkpoint inhibitors, co-stimulants, innate immunotherapy and CAR T cell therapy to bispecific antibody TCRs.
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