Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta

In the first part of our preview we looked at the cancer immunotherapy related program from Friday through Sunday at the AACR 2019 (#AACR19) annual meeting at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) in Atlanta.

This post looks at the program from Monday to Wednesday – you can find a review of the IO track for Fri-Sat here.

Don’t forget you can review the precise room details via the AACR meeting app prior to attending sessions as these are sometimes subject to change. We’ve based our posts on the preliminary program and it is highly likely there will be changes to meeting rooms, based on past experience.

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We’re starting our review of the program for the forthcoming 2019 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (Twitter hashtag to follow: #AACR19) with a look at the cancer immunotherapy program.

One of the challenges of a large meeting is that it’s like a smorgasbord or buffet in a hotel that’s resplendent in choices, but you can’t possibly eat it all.

Choices!

Some choose to follow a research area, others a target or tumor type. There’s a lot of ways to segment the program depending on your specific interests.

However, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place ahead of a large conference such as AACR, even if you modify it as you go to take into account evolving needs.

Seasoned conference goers will be familiar with the maxim known as “the law of two feet” – if a session you are in doesn’t live up to expectations or meet your needs and something else looks more to your taste from the tweets, then simply dash off to another!

In our latest conference preview, we’ve taken a careful look at the cancer immunotherapy track.

What are some of the key sessions to put on your calendar if you’re following this track or have an interest in this area?

In Part 1, we review the IO sessions from Friday to Sunday then tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll review the schedule from Monday to Wednesday.  Yes, it’s that intense this year! Just think, five years ago you had to search the program really quite hard indeed to even find much on immuno-oncology, as it was very much in its infancy then.

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Casa Milà, Barcelona

One of the pleasures of going to international cancer immunotherapy conferences is the opportunity to meet great scientists such as Sergio Quezada, PhD. He’s a Professor of Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy at University College London (UCL) Cancer Institute.

After his PhD, he joined the laboratory of Jim Allison at MSKCC in 2004, and as we heard from Nobel Laureate Sir Richard Roberts FRS on the last episode of the Novel Targets Podcast (Link), working in the laboratory of a future Nobel Laureate is one of his 10 tongue in cheek suggestions to improve your chances of winning a Nobel prize!

Professor Quezada kindly spoke to BSB last week at the European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) “Defense is the Best Attack” conference.

In Barcelona, we talked about the research done by his UCL group into regulatory T cells (Tregs) that led to the development of a novel first-in-class Treg depleting anti-CD25 antibody.

As Prof Quezada told BSB:

“This was the dream. It was basic biology, a big curiosity, lots of basic biology and being very stubborn and lots of luck. And now we have something that came out of PhD students and postdocs that some medic or nurse is gonna be injecting at the end of the year into a patient, so it’s really exciting. It’s really, really exciting!”

We enjoyed talking with Prof Quezada and appreciated the perspicacious insights he shared on where we’ve come from and where we may be going.

If you’d like to read more about the science and potential for this approach in cancer immunotherapy, subscribers can log-in to read our latest thought leader interview or you can click to gain access to BSB Premium Content.

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Barcelona: What makes a great scientist is not accepting conventional wisdom or dogma but instead thinking differently, pursuing what data generated truly means, and asking if we can do things differently as a result?

Gaudi architecture, Barcelona

Current success in immuno-oncology new product development has been built on basic research done twenty and thirty years ago, when many didn’t believe in leveraging the power of the immune system therapeutically.

At the ongoing European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) “Defense is the Best Attack” meeting in Barcelona this week, many experts in the IO field are sharing novel findings on what may lead to future insights.

What were some of the key take-homes?

Subscribers can read our notes from some of the presentations that stood out at the meeting.

If you’re not yet a BSB subscriber and are interested in learning from our science and clinical commentary/analysis then come join a growing band of enthusiastic readers!

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Gaudi’s Casa Milà/La Pedrera, Barcelona

Barcelona: There’s a lot of choice when it comes to cancer immunotherapy conferences, but an event that caught our attention this year as one that merited coverage is the European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) meeting, Defense is the Best Attack – Immuno-Oncology Breakthroughs taking place in Barcelona this week.

The conference is being held in the basement of La Pedrera, Gaudi’s famous Casa Milà modernist building in Barcelona (right).

It’s such an old building that you’re actually forbidden to plug in any phones or computers to charge them for fear of over-loading the electrics, so it’s an event that requires you to be fully charged upfront!

What were some of the highlights from Day 1?  There were some key data and concepts being presented that will grab folks involved in cancer research…

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London – last week a half day event at The Francis Crick Institute looked at three UK cell therapy companies that have been spun out of academic research from partner institutions, UCL and King’s College London.

Medicine at Crick Welcome

Professor Julian Downward welcomes everyone to The Crick

We heard from the CEOs of Achilles Therapeutics, GammaDelta Therapeutics and Autolus Therapeutics on how they are translating science into new adoptive cellular therapies.

There were also presentations from leading scientists whose research they are commercializing.

All three companies were founded in 2016, so the event was a fascinating snapshot as to where are they now, roughly 3 years on, what have they achieved and where are they going.

They vary in terms of their vision, innovation and their adoptive cellular therapy approach.

Autolus are developing autologous CAR-T cell therapies, GammaDelta Therapeutics are focusing on allogeneic Vδ1 gamma delta (ϒδ) T cells, while Achilles Therapeutics are targeting patient-derived clonal neoantigens.

If you couldn’t make this Medicine at the Crick event, what were some of the take home messages, and how do we think these companies compare to some of their competitors?

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Imagine being becalmed on boat in the doldrums patiently waiting for the wind to pick up…

Just as experienced sailers learn to make best use of the available knowledge on sea breezes, tides, tidal winds, catspaws, headsails, heels, genoa etc, so immunologists are experimenting with various modalities.

This enables them to develop a more extensive knowledge base before they can use all the available tools more effectively at their disposal in order to chart a course in each tumour type and setting.

That’s a tremendous amount of information and skills that needs to be gathered before we can even consider racing against competition. So it is with cancer immunotherapy, with all its different approaches that are available to combine or sequence in a multitude of tumour types. We are still largely in the unknown unknown stage of figuring things out.

That said, each cancer conference brings new nuggets and gems that on their own do not appear to offer much, but added together in the broader picture can contribute more than many observers realise.

That was certainly the case with our latest update on IO therapies, as you will see…

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The annual ASCO-SITC meeting (#ImmunoOnc19) was held in San Francisco this year and has come a long way from the inaugural event we attended in Orlando.

Finding the signals amongst the noise

In the original 2017 event, I vividly recall as stirring presentation from Dr Limo Chen on targeting CD38 in solid tumours, last year we wrote an update on GU cancers including the STING pathway.

What’s in store from San Francisco and how do we go about finding key signals from the noise?

Over the next two posts I’m going to focus on new findings in various approaches that either look interesting and worth watching, or where there are lessons that can be learned for future developments.

This time around, some of the highlights surprised even me…

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For the final post in our mini series on the potential of gamma delta (γδ) T cells for cancer immunotherapy, we’re traveling to Scotland with a visit to a company that is a poster child for Scottish enterprise.

TC BioPharm Office Building

TC (as in T cell) BioPharm are leading the way in development of allogeneic γδ T cell therapies. They’ve already completed a trial of autologous γδ T cell therapy to establish safety and now have an allogeneic phase 1 trial underway in Prague.

TC BioPharm logoCEO and Founder, Dr Michael Leek, has built a company that already counts bluebird bio (NASDAQ: $BLUE) as one its partners (Link).

Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Angela Scott was part of the team that cloned the first mammal, “Dolly the Sheep.”

Angela Scott COO and Co-Founder of TC BioPharmShe was recently profiled in The Herald (Link) and her cell therapy experience has been instrumental in the development of the company’s own GMP manufacturing facility in Scotland.

As the Herald article notes, the company is being positioned for a possible NASDAQ IPO in 2020, so is definitely one to watch out for.

We all remember catchy advertising slogans, and one I remember well is for the now defunct Orange mobile phone network in the UK: “The future is bright, the future is orange.”

If you’re TC BioPharm then maybe this could be construed as: “The future is bright, the future is allogeneic” (γδ T cells).

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Chinese Pagoda in Hoxton

Yesterday on BSB we looked at the emerging landscape in western countries for cancer immunotherapies that target gamma delta T cells. Today we’re turning our attention to China.

There’s a lot of interest in cell therapies in China. Anyone who has seen one of Dr Carl June’s recent presentations will no doubt recall the slide he shows of how many CAR T trials are underway there.

What’s happening with gamma delta T cells in China, and in particular CAR γδ T cell therapies? Do the Chinese have a competitive advantage in this emerging field and what can we learn from some of the results that have been reported?

This is the fourth post in our mini-series on the potential of gamma delta T cells for cancer immunotherapy.

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