Biotech Strategy Blog

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

About Pieter Droppert

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Posts by Pieter Droppert

Not in San Diego: We took a close look at the potential for targeting gamma delta (𝞬𝝳) T cells early last year in an extended mini-series looking at the landscape including some of the early companies leading the way in this niche.

Since then there’s been a raft of company related announcements and collaborations in recent months, highlighting the ongoing interest in this field.

In this post, it’s time to revisit the original landscape (link), as well as explore how well some of the biotech companies who are active in this space are navigating the R&D roller coaster.

We will also be discussing recent data presented at the AACR20 virtual meetings.

So what did we learn about gamma delta T Cell therapies at AACR20 – who stands out from the increasingly crowded pack?

To learn more from our oncology analysis and get a heads up on insights and commentary emerging from the AACR meeting, subscribers can log-in or you can click to gain access to BSB Premium Content.

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Not-in-San Diego: The second part of the 2020 virtual annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR VM2) is over, and now the fun part of looking at some of the key data presented commences.

If you listened in to some of the sessions live like BSB did then you would have heard many of the chairs say how surprised they were to have 1,200 to 1,500 or more people listening live – AACR are to be congratulated on promoting access to science from around the world.

We all miss the personal interaction of a meeting but given the high cost of attending an annual conference, a virtual meeting does promote the democratization of science, and we are all for that. Given the ongoing uncertainties around the control of Covid–19, with all the travel and large crowds involved, it remains uncertain when we’ll all feel comfortable going to major conferences again.

One presentation that caught the attention of many at AACR VM2 including ourselves was data on a novel way to target IL–18 from the lab of Dr Aaron Ring (Yale), which was presented by his postdoc, Dr Ting Zhou at the meeting. A paper was also published simultaneously in Nature last week.

We’ve been following Dr Ring’s work on IL–18 for some time so it was good to finally see it published.

As part of our ongoing AACR20 coverage, Dr Ring kindly spoke to BSB to explain how his research led to the discovery of a novel way to target IL–18 for cancer immunotherapy as well as the plans to translate this into the clinic through a spin-off company, Simcha Therapeutics.

Will this novel way of targeting IL–18 be a winner? We take a closer look in this post.

To learn more from our oncology analysis and get a heads up on insights and commentary emerging from the second AACR meeting, subscribers can log-in or you can click to gain access to BSB Premium Content.

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Not in Chicago: A hallmark of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is “practice changing” clinical trial data often featured in the plenary session.

This year one of the noteworthy phase 3 trials presented at the meeting (link to ASCO20 Abstract LBA5), was the AstraZeneca sponsored “ADAURA” trial for osimertinib as adjuvant therapy in patients with stage 1B-IIIA EGFR mutation-positive NSCLC after complete tumor resection.

We’ve been following the clinical development of osimertinib since the initial presentation of the phase 1 data in 2013 (link).

Source: ASCO20 Press Briefing by Dr Roy Herbst

At first glance it’s hard not to be wowed by the separation of the disease-free survival (DFS) curves in ADAURA, which show a benefit for patients who received the EGFR inhibitor osimertinib compared to those who received placebo. A 0.17 hazard ratio is certainly not something we see every day.

Indeed, if you were in the media and listened to Dr Herbst on the #ASCO20 press briefing last week – to use a “Britishism” – you would have thought this trial was “the best thing since sliced bread.”  The data monitoring committee recommended unblinding the study early.

Dr Ross Camidge Colorado

D Ross Camidge, MD PhD

Anyone leaving the story there and doing a superficial report about this data is, however, doing a disservice to their readers. The US academic lung cancer community are not all singing Handel’s Hallelujah chorus for the ADAURA trial and in this post, we take a critical look at why this might be the case.

For good measure, we interviewed a global thought leader who was prepared to offer some candid expert commentary.

Dr Ross Camidge is Professor of Medicine/Oncology and holds the Joyce Zeff Chair in Lung Cancer Research at the University of Colorado school of medicine. He kindly spoke to BSB and shared his perspective on adjuvant therapy in EGFR mutant lung cancer.

Dr Camidge characterized the disease-free survival in the ADAURA trial as a potential “false dawn” and told BSB:

“I do not believe the data should be practice changing or at least not yet. I think when you show there is an overall survival benefit then it will be practice changing…

So far there is no reason to suggest that disease free survival is going to translate into an overall survival advantage as it has not in any other comparable targeted therapy trial in EGFR mutant lung cancer. If this trial is the exception though, it will certainly not be of the same magnitude as the DFS benefit. However, the real unanswered questions are who needs this drug in this setting and if they need it, who can stop it safely and when.”

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This week the conference cycle continues with the annual meeting of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT) (Twitter #ASGCT20).

Due to the ongoing travel challenges and need for social distancing as result of Covid–19, one key annual immunology meeting originally slated for this month was AAI in Honolulu, which was sadly cancelled. Fortunately, ASGCT is being held as a live virtual meeting instead, so do check it out if you have a keen interest in this field.

One area we’re hoping to learn more about at ASGCT20 is cell therapy using natural killer (NK) cells. It’s an exciting and emerging area, which is attracting a lot of interest of late.

Those following the NK cell space will no doubt have seen the recent announcement of the collaboration between Kite/Gilead and Melbourne based oNKo-innate, co-founded by Prof Nick Huntington (@Dr_Nick_Bikes) and Dr Jai Rautella (Link to PR).

Other NK focused companies in the news include the licensing by Avectas of the CAR-NK cell therapy from Galway based ONK Therapeutics, founded by Prof Mike O’Dwyer (@MichaelodwyerMD) (Link to PR).

It’s definitely an exciting time to be an NK cell biologist!

In our ongoing series of expert interviews, we caught up with Prof Huntington from Melbourne to talk about the potential of CAR-NK cell therapies.

To learn more from our oncology analysis and get a heads up on insights and commentary emerging in the NK cell niche, including our latest expert interview subscribers can log-in or you can click to gain access to BSB Premium Content.

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The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is to be congratulated on turning their annual in-person meeting into a virtual meeting at short notice.

With over 60,000 registered attendees, the meeting is a success and has set the standard for others to follow this year. While we all miss the opportunity to meet and network in-person, a virtual meeting does democratize access to science for scientists and researchers who can’t afford to travel or attend every year and we hope that live-streaming will continue in 2021 and beyond.

Since the sessions are available to watch for free on demand, we’re not repeating the data but like a postcard are instead focusing on what stood out for us, adding some pertinent commentary or context, as well some of our key take homes from a cancer new product development perspective.

Whether you agree, disagree, or thought differently about the presentations, we’re here to provoke thinking and critical discussion.

In this latest postcard from AACR20, we’re focusing on highlights from the adoptive cell therapy session taking place earlier today.

To learn more from our oncology analysis and get a heads up on insights and commentary emerging from the first annual AACR virtual meeting subscribers can log-in or you can click to gain access to BSB Premium Content.

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We are living in exceptionally challenging times and our thoughts are very much with all those healthcare professionals at the front line in the battle against Covid–19.

For people living with cancer, particularly those who have stage IV disease, the stark reality – in the UK and even some States in the US – is an ICU bed may not be available if they come down with the severe form of the disease.

When it comes to cancer research most labs, with the exception of those working on Covid–19, are now closed, but there is still data coming out to keep us all going as we work from home. ASCO20 will be a virtual meeting this year, while AACR will likely have some virtual presentations later in April. There are also plenty of publications coming out in journals from work already completed.

In this post we’re looking at newly published research and one possible immunological link between inflammation related to cancer and certain infectious diseases.

Last week we spoke to Dr Kamal Khanna (@Kamal_M_Khanna), Associate Professor at NYU Langone about research from his lab, which has just been published in the journal Science Immunology.

Although science is important, what matters most in these exceptional times is making sure everyone comes through it safely. Dr Khanna kindly spoke to BSB under embargo on Wed 25th March, where we also spoke about the surreal experience going on around him as we asked, how are things going with you in New York?

“It’s crazy. This has become the epicenter now. It just moved so fast here from having no cases and everyone wondering what’s going on to just explosion. Lab is shutdown, unfortunately. They’re allowing one person to go in at one time, in my lab just to maintain mouse colonies and do very limited experiments.

They’re allowing us to do the Covid–19 experiments, which we started just a few days ago, but also in a limited fashion. Those are the things we’re doing right now is simply plaquing the virus, and we have a few strains and we’re just testing growing them and so. We’re getting some limited human samples, but probably that will explode now. Our hospital has the most amount of Covid patients, so much so that they just made a makeshift morgue with a tent, unfortunately, right next to where we are.

So that’s the reality of where we are right now and hoping that this will peak at some point, they’re predicting in about 2 to 3 weeks that it would reach its apex and then all the social distancing and things that we’ve been doing, hopefully that will start to bring some of the numbers down, that’s the hope.”

In this post we offer an extended interview with Dr Khanna where we explore possible immunological links between inflammation in relation to cancer and infectious diseases and how research from his lab could generate new insights into cancer, as well as some potential impacts for Covid–19.

If you’d like to read our latest in-depth expert interview on cancer-related topics, please do consider supporting independent science journalism in these challenging and exceptional times.

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When should someone receive CAR T cell therapy? How do we identify who will benefit most or who will be most likely to fail? Those are some of the questions we’re considering in our latest expert interview.

As we see the landscapes around aggressive lymphomas and multiple multiple evolve and change with more near-term CAR T cell therapy approvals coming, so too do the clinical questions surrounding the optimising of these novel approaches.

Prof John Gribben, President of EHA (right) at CART2020 in Sitges

At the EHA/EBMT 2nd European meeting on CAR T cell therapy, BSB spoke with Professor John Gribben. He’s the current President of the European Hematology Association (EHA) and holds the Gordon Hamilton Fairley Chair of Medical Oncology at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary, University of London.

One of his messages was when considering CAR T cell therapy, it’s a delicate question of balance.

To learn more from our oncology coverage and get a heads up on our latest analysis, commentary, and expert interview, subscribers can log-in or you can click to gain access to BSB Premium Content.

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Friday at #ASH19 – remains of the day or hope springs eternal with sunrise on Saturday morning?

Orlando: The annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology or ASH (Twitter #ASH19) is one of the four key Majors on cancer-related related research meeting circuit that BSB attends each year.

Just as golf has the Masters, the US Open, the Open, and PGA championships, so those on the cancer new product development circuit attend AACR, ASCO, ESMO, and ASH.

This year ASH is in sunny Orlando where you have to compete with the tourists for Uber rides if you want to venture to restaurants or events in the area.

Friday at ASH has traditionally been associated with the satellite symposia, colloquially known as “Super Fridays” that CME companies or organizations such as the Leukemia Lymphoma Society have traditionally run, but in recent years ASH has put on its own Friday events to compete with both the industry satellites and also academic events such as the BMT Winter Workshop we have attended in the past.  More choice is good on one hand, but bad on the other in that something has to give way.

Ron Levy (Stanford) and Stephen Ansell (Mayo) blazed the trail a few years ago with their Friday Scientific Workshop on Tumor Immune Interactions in Lymphoid malignancies. Regular BSB readers may recall the interview at ASH16 with Dr Levy where he reviewed some of the data in that year’s workshop (See post: Targeting the tumour environment in lymphomas.)

This year on Friday at ASH19 there were multiple scientific workshops you could attend. What were some of the presentations that caught our personal attention, what can we learn from them and why did they matter?

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SITC 2019 Preview: After looking at exciting new developments in targeted therapies last week, it’s now time to switch horses and kick off our annual coverage of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) meeting, which takes place in a few days time at National Harbor in Maryland.

National Harbor, MD

In the SITC 2019 Presidential Session this coming Saturday, one of the presentations we are eagerly looking forward to is by Dr Vyara Matson, a Post Doc in the lab of Dr Tom Gajewski at the University of Chicago.

Dr Matson will be presenting on “Patient-derived microbiota germ-free mouse model for identifying mechanisms of checkpoint blockade efficacy modulation.”

In our latest expert interview, we spoke to Dr Gajewski about the strategic concepts underpinning his work in the microbiome niche, where he has got to presently and where he plans to go next. It makes for fascinating reading, especially when you realise that as scientists, they are sceptical themselves and yet curious to discover the answers through carefully thought out experiments that could impact future patient care for those people receiving immunotherapy for the treatment of their particular cancer.

One major take home for us in following the cancer immunotherapy niche is that there could well be different mechanisms at play for primary and secondary resistance – where does the microbiome fit in with this, and can it be manipulated to create a more positive benefit?  Is the effect a real one or a spurious correlation?  These kind of questions, along with a host of others, are some of the key topics discussed in the expert interview.

If you have plans to be at #SITC2019 do let us know, as we always look forward to saying “hello” to BSB readers.

Subscribers can read more on why we think this work is innovative and important to our understanding of what’s going on in responders and non-responders by logging in or you can click to gain access to BSB Premium Content.

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Boston: The 2019 AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics is underway (#Targets19). It’s long been one of our favorite meetings, particularly when held in Boston, and this year there’s a raft of early ideas on offer as to where the targeted therapy field may be going.

Alison Schram, MD. Credit: MSKCC

The success of Ignyta’s entrectinib (acquired by Roche) and Loxo Oncology’s larotrectinib (acquired by Lilly) in targeting NTRK gene fusions has raised interest in targeting other gene fusions, even if they are rare. A new target in a similar vein that has attracted interest recently are fusions involving the neuregulin 1 gene (NRG1).

At this year’s Molecular Targets meeting, Dr Alison Schram, a medical oncologist in the Early Drug Development Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) presented clinical proof of concept data for MCLA-128 (Merus), a bispecific HER2/3 antibody therapy in NRG1 fusion positive cancers.

What did we learn about MCLA-128 and NRG1 at Targets19?

To learn more from our Triple/Targets meeting oncology coverage and get a heads up on insights from our latest thought leader interview, subscribers can log-in or you can click to gain access to BSB Premium Content.

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