Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘Yervoy’

With the news hot off the press at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) that Merck’s pembrolizumab (Keytruda) beat out BMS’s ipilimumab (Yervoy) in advanced melanoma, quite a few readers wrote in asking whether this signals the end for ipilimumab?

The short answer is no, and here’s why…

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Much has been written about the success of checkpoint blockade in solid tumours over the last couple of years with the advent of anti-CTLA4 therapy (ipilimumab/Yervoy) for metastatic melanoma followed by the more recent approval of the anti-PD-1 antibodies in advanced melanoma (pembrolizumab/Keytruda and nivolumab/Opdivo) and lung cancer (nivolumab).

What about hematologic malignancies though?

At the recent American Society of Hematology (ASH) conference, we heard about the first clinical data for anti-PD1 antibodies in patients with refractory classic Hodgkins Lymphomas (cHL) and saw some impressive results. Interestingly, though, the early preclinical work was conducted in mice looking at CTLA4 blockade in a variety of tumours, both solid and liquid.

YervoyIs there a rationale for targeting CTLA4 in leukemias, lymphomas and even myeloma?  New data presented at a medical meeting in patients with heavily pre-treated and relapsed disease post stem cell transplantation suggests that this might be feasible.

Check out to today’s article to learn more about this clinical opportunity in more detail – you can log in or subscribe in the box below.

Over the last few years we’ve heard a lot about the evaluation of predictive biomarkers for checkpoint inhibitors, in particular the value of using PD-L1, whether on immune or tumour cells, as a way of separating responders and non-responders to therapy with anti-PD1 or anti-PDL1 blockers. The results to date have been mixed, with some KOLs concluding that smoking history or number of mutations was more useful in lung cancer and others believing that their assay has better utility.

Some cynical observers I’ve come across have even asserted that companies don’t want to see biomarkers emerge because that then limits their opportunity for patients being treated. Ouch! I don’t believe this to be true, it’s highly complex science and there is much about the healthy immune system that we still don’t know, never mind under more complex situations such as cancer. This is an ever-evolving field about which we still have much learn.

Eventually, we may see further refinement of these approaches, at least in some tumour types and I’m particularly looking forward to hearing more about those advances at ASCO and ASH later this year when the clinical and translational work is more mature.

Next month heralds the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). As we noted in our first AACR Preview on Immunotherapy last week, it’s the first time immunotherapy has literally dominated a largely preclinical and scientific program of this nature.

Over the next week or two, will be be highlighting and explaining some of the emerging trends in more detail.

On the important topic of biomarkers, one new approach particularly caught my eye in the abstracts that were released yesterday is worthy of further discussion since it could have important implications to future clinical approaches.

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We have been following the results of the checkpoint inhibitors for several years now, first with ipilimumab (Yervoy) and lately with anti-PD1 and PD-L1 inhibitors such as nivolumab, pembrolizumab and MPDL3280A. Irrespective of the antibody used, the best results we’ve seen have in melanoma, lung and bladder, but some tumour types such as colon and prostate cancers have barely been responsive at all.

Why is that?

Can we find ways to make non-responsive solid tumours responsive to immune therapies, and if so, what strategies could we employ to enable improved responses and outcomes?

At the ASCO Genitourinary (GU) meeting in Orlando this weekend there were some interesting hints of what might be possible in the not too distant future.

To learn more about this phenomenon, we conducted an interview with a leading cancer immunologist to find out what they are doing to make a difference in the GU space.

Interested?  Check out the interview by clicking on the link in the box below.

Today’s post focuses on another question from a reader, who asked: “How will we decide which therapies to give patients with metastatic melanoma once the new immunotherapies are available?”

This is not an easy question to answer, but first let’s remember that as little as five years ago there were only treatments such as DTIC (dacarbazine), temozolamide, interferon, chemotherapy and not much else as choices for people with advanced melanoma. Survival rates were generally poor, yet despite the low barrier to entry, many agents failed miserably to beat them. The disease was therefore widely considered to be a graveyard for Pharma R&D.

Fast forward to 2014. We now have several targeted therapies and combinations approved including BRAFV600E (vemurafenib and dabrafenib) and MEK inhibitors (trametinib), as well as a number of others that may soon be on the way in the near term such as cobimetinib in combination with vemurafenib.  Along similar lines, GSK recently announced that the combination of dabrafenib plus trametinib was superior to vemurafenib alone in terms of overall survival.  Hopefully, we will see the full data for both combinations at a medical meeting such as ESMO or EADO in the Fall.

Immunotherapies such as ipilimumab (Yervoy) have also been shown to improve patient outcomes. In addition, others are also in the queue including anti-PD–1 antibodies, which are likely to be reviewed soon by the Health Authorities (e.g. pembrolizumab and nivolumab). Indeed, Japan already approved nivolumab (Opdivo) in advanced melanoma on July 4th, making it the first anti-PD–1 checkpoint inhibitor to be available globally. Meanwhile, in the US Merck had a jump start with their rolling NDA for pembrolizumab already started (the PDUFA is Oct 28th, 2014). Their data at ASCO included probably one of the largest trials I’ve seen in advanced melanoma with over 400 patients included. BMS are not far behind with nivolumab, however, and are expecting to begin their filing in the 3Q this year following the frontline trial (CHECKMATE 037) in BRAF wild type (wt) metastatic melanoma versus dacarbazine successfully meeting its primary endpoint earlier than expected.

You can read about the clinical results relating to the three key melanoma trials reported at ASCO by Ribas et al., Hodi et al., and Sznol et al., in our earlier review but today, I wanted to focus on a broader, more strategic perspective, now that several events post meeting are shaking out more clearly.

A couple of years ago (was it really that long?!), many of us were quite disappointed to see the combination of vemurafenib plus ipilimumab scuttled due to unexpected liver toxicity, although the good news from ASCO is that a dual immunotherapy combination (ipilimumab plus nivolumab) appears not to have met the same fate.

The landscape for metastatic melanoma is therefore rapidly changing, but where is this field likely to go and what can we expect to see?

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In the second part of our mini-series on immuno-oncology, I thought it would be a nice idea to share a recent interview conducted with one of Roche/Genentech’s leading researchers in this field.  I was particularly interested in their approach because while BMS and Merck have clearly focused on anti-PD-1, Roche and Genentech have effectively zigged with their development of an anti-PD-L1 inhibitor.  Does this matter?

Here, we explore the general background to this approach and, in particular, where the company are going with their anti-PD-L1 inhibitor, MPDL3280A.

Topics discussed:

anti-PD-L1, anti-PD-1, anti-CTLA-4, checkpoint point inhibitors, T cells, biomarkers.

Drugs mentioned:

MPDL3280A, nivolumab, MK-3475, ipilimumab (Yervoy), lirilumab, BMS-986016 (anti-LAG3), bevacizumab (Avastin), erlotinib (Tarceva), vemurafenib (Zelboraf), cobimetinib.

If you are interested in more background on how the PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors work, you can check out the mechanism of action (MOA) in our video preview from ASCO last year, which explains this in fairly simple terms.

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