Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘VEGF’

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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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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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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Driving St Charles StreetcarAfter exploring the science behind chemotherapy improving T cell trafficking into the tumour yesterday – which is one of the key rate limiting issues that need to be addressed with immunotherapies such as checkpoint blockade – some obvious follow-up questions comes to mind:

  1. Does the compelling data in mice translate to humans?
  2. Can chemotherapy turn a cold tumour into a hot one?
  3. Will patients have improved outcomes as a result – or not?

It’s easy to dismiss traditional therapies in favour of appealing new developments, but what happens when we combine them?  Do we get additive effects, synergies or a negative impact?

As part of our ongoing AACR coverage, we explored this conundrum in the context of new data readouts, as well as the broader competitive landscape.

What we found was really interesting!

BMS, Merck and Genentech/Roche all have trials ongoing in the metastatic colorectal cancer space, with very different approaches being taken.  Does it matter?  Which one’s driving the bus?  We summarise these trials and offer some strategic insights on this niche.

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Dawlish TrainspottingIt’s Day 7 of our 12 day Countdown to AACR 2016 in New Orleans.  After exploring GITR and OX40, we’re now looking at another stimulatory target for cancer immunotherapy: CD40.

We’ve been writing about CD40 as a cancer immunotherapy target for some time. See posts: “CD40 as a Cancer Immunotherapy Target” and “Targeting CD40 in Cancer Immunotherapy.

Anti-CD40 antibodies are agonists that act on stimulatory signalling receptors on T cells and antigen presenting cells (APCs). Targeting CD40 effectively acts to “put the foot on the gas” and may help generate a better immune response. This could be important in cancers that have fewer natural T cells present.

CD40 is an attractive target because it’s expressed in more than 50% of carcinomas and melanomas and almost all hematological B cell malignancies.  Of particular interest is the potential to combine a CD40 agonist with a PD-1/PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor.

Multiple companies have CD40 agonists in clinical development including Roche, Apexigen, Alligator Biosciences and Seattle Genetics.  There are others coming too.

In this preview of AACR 2016, we’re looking at the CD40 landscape. New products and companies have entered the scene, so we’re highlighting them and some of the CD40 presentations to look out for at AACR 2016 (and why they matter).

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Updated data are often presented at conferences and therefore the results can differ from the submitted abstracts, which are sometimes submitted as placeholders based on immature data cutoffs. That was certainly the case in several examples at the ASCO GI conference in San Francisco last weekend.

San Francisco HerculesAfter Monday’s look at new developments in the lower GI tract, we now turn our attention today to the upper GI tract with a focus on oesophageal, gastric (stomach), and gastro-esophageal junction (GEJ) cancers.

Over the last five years we have seen new approvals for targeted therapies such as HER2+ gastric cancer and relapsed refarctory gastric cancers with a VEGF inhibitor. Will that trend continue over the next five years or will we see new approaches such as immunotherapy enter the market and dominate?

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Dr Mario Sznol

Dr Mario Sznol at SITC 2015 Patient Forum

Novel Immunotherapies and Combinations” was the title of the talk by Dr Mario Sznol (Yale) at the recent Immunotherapy Patient Forum co-hosted by Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Organization (GRACE) and the Melanoma Research Alliance at the 2015 SITC annual meeting.

At the forum, Dr Sznol also led a breakout session, where he reviewed what is melanoma, the treatment of primary melanoma and management of advanced disease, as well as answering questions from the patients and patient advocates.

Often at medical meetings you hear the results of a clinical trial that is but one piece of the jigsaw, so it was interesting to hear a more comprehensive overview of the disease.

Dr Sznol kindly spoke with BSB about his vision for the future of cancer immunotherapies. This post includes excerpts from the interview along with additional commentary.

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At the last count, the renal cell carcinoma (RCC) space is quite competitive with five VEGF inhibitors (sunitinib, sorafenib, axitinib, pazopanib and bevacizumab), two mTOR blockers (temsirolimus and everolimus) and not forgetting IL–2, all approved by the FDA for the treatment of advanced disease.

Much of the recent focus has been on sequencing, exploring combinations (generally too toxic with little added benefit), and evaluating the potential for novel immunotherapies in development such as checkpoint inhibitors. Biomarkers are few and far between, making it hard to rationally decide which therapy each patient should get and in which sequence.

The key question is, why is this tumour type so challenging from a clinical and scientific perspective?

Screenshot 2015-03-23 12.44.32Recently, new data has begun to emerge that may help inform or enable us to switch to new approaches.  While the urologists are eagerly watching the live surgery on the EAU cam, we highlight research data presented at the European Association of Urology (EAU) in Madrid and take a look at how the underlying biology of RCC can elevate our knowledge about where the potential future strategies and blueprint might lie, if we want to facilitate exciting new developments in this field.

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We hope that everyone had a relaxing holiday break and now it’s time to get back to work.  Tomorrow I will review some more of my thoughts in the immuno-oncology space, since that area had a tremendous amount of progress in San Diego with lots of new ideas to process and summarise.

In the meantime, a few people have written in and asked about what was happening with overcoming resistance in various tumour types, was there anything new to say in that space that was in addition to the the detailed previews we covered before the conference?

Actually, there was a quite a few posters and presentations that caught my eye, so I thought this would be a good idea to review them here:

Lung Cancer: HER2, VEGF, T790M, EGFR, erlotinib, gefitinib, trastuzumab, bevacizumab, CO-1686, AZD9291

Prostate Cancer: mTOR, PI3K, Androgen Receptor, enzalutamide, abiraterone, CC214–2, ARN–509, BET Bromodomian inhibition, ODM–201, GDC–0980, GDC-0068, PF–04691502, BKM120, BEZ235

This morning, I woke up early to a sad announcement from Genentech that:

“The Phase III METLung study of onartuzumab (MetMab) in combination with Tarceva in MET-positive, advanced non-small cell lung cancer did not meet its primary endpoint of overall survival in a planned interim analysis. At the recommendation of an independent data monitoring committee, we are voluntarily terminating the trial. Adverse events were similar between the two arms.”

Although the full data isn’t yet available, it will be presented at a future medical conference. My guess is that ESMO in Madrid will be a possibility, if the ASCO deadline has already passed.  I’ve been avidly following the concept of MET inhibition in advanced lung cancer for both ArQule’s tivantinib and Genentech’s MetMab (onartuzumab) since the data was first presented at ESMO nearly four years ago.  These posts are still available on Pharma Strategy Blog (open access).

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