Biotech Strategy Blog

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

The annual ASH Dash often ends up with crowds waiting for the poster halls to open up – a daily scene captured from ASH19

With coronavirus and COVID–19 pretty much dominating attention and space in the global news on a daily basis lately, I am vividly reminded that not too long ago in December we attended the annual meeting at ASH in Orlando to experience busy scenes like the one on the right…

Imagine those packed crowds now in the current context – it doesn’t bear thinking about!

Which is why all of the oncology conferences we had been planning to attend this year are one-by-one postponing or outright cancelling their events until next year. This is going to create a lot of challenges for companies in terms of data release and presentations, to be sure, but what matters more is reducing the risk of the infection spread in order to limit the risk of serious cases developing.

The good news is that we do have a huge backlog of oncology data – novel targets, new agents, and emerging companies – to write about and share with our audience. There’s always a silver lining to be had if you look carefully enough.

Here’s one such example – a novel cancer target, agents in development, and an emerging company to highlight too…

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Part of the next wave of early immuno-oncology agents are focused on addressing the tumour microenvironment and inhibitory factors that dampen down immune responses.

As we look at all the options available, there are a few obvious ones such as physical barriers and inhibitory cytokines or chemokines, but beyond that are a vast array of other potential targets we can aim at therapeutically.

We have covered quite a few of these already, but here’s a new one to add to the list.

One particular advantage is that because it is early in development, few competitors have cottoned on to the concept yet. First mover advantage can have quite a few benefits, after all.

Here’s an important question to consider in terms of oncology R&D – would you rather explore a blue ocean strategy or follow the lemmings off the cliff and be 14th to market in a highly competitive red ocean?

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There are multiple players in the Magic Roundabout, but are some more important than others and will different culprits turn out to have hidden meanings? You may never see Ermintrude in the same way again 😉

Without a doubt, there are multiple potential ways we can go about improving responses to cancer immunotherapy, not just in terms of targets, combination approaches, different modalities etc, but also by manipulating the tumour microenvironment or thinking about directing different immune cells in positive ways.

In our latest review, we look at one area where emerging work appears to bearing fruit as multiple groups suddenly get one of those, a-ha! moments.

It’s not just happening in one tumour type either, nor is it limited to one type of therapy or modality, which makes it all the more intriguing to think about.

We heard about one example of this mechanism last year and now it’s time to explore things in more detail. This also means companies quick on the uptake could well take advantage ahead of their competitors.

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We’re living in uncertain and challenging times as the coronavirus impacts healthcare providers around the world and puts them in the front line of exposure.

Meetings are being cancelled or postponed as companies and institutions batten down the hatches and restrict non-essential travel. Nobody wants their employees to bring back an infection, nor does anyone want to be stranded or quarantined in a far-flung place. I expect many hospitals will also want their staff to be readily available as the number of cases escalate in many countries.

We at BSB are also carefully considering our plans and which conferences in coming months we will attend in person, and expect it will be fewer than recent years. We’ve already cancelled attendance at a couple of international meetings and are actively considering whether we will cover others remotely too.

The worlds of oncology and the coronavirus are colliding in many ways, including on the scientific level too.

It turns out that key RNA transcription factors may have a role to play as therapeutic targets for both cancer and the coronavirus.

Science is very much about making connections. In this post, we’re taking a look at one transcription factor that could be a useful target in the context of both coronaviruses and oncology.

It’s time to look through an alternative window and see an entirely different perspective…

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We get to chat with many leading oncologists and cancer researchers on Biotech Strategy Blog – it’s truly one of the perks of the job to meet experts and hear them discuss their early research.

Like a tutorial, we have the opportunity to ask questions and improve our own understanding, but where it becomes really interesting is when they talk about promising translational opportunities, because this is what we are about.

How do you translate basic research into oncology new products and figure out where are the viable opportunities?

In this post, we spoke with one of the world’s leading immunologists – someone we’ve never spoken to before – who a few weeks ago spun-out a company to commercialize one of their early research areas and while we were doing the interview told us about another commercial opportunity they had in mind. This was very much “under the radar” and in a relatively earlier stage of commercialization. Both targets have potential for synergy in our view, particularly in combination strategies and cancer immunotherapy regimens.

With one company in stealth mode and the other only incorporated a matter of weeks ago (at time of writing they don’t yet have a website), it’s exciting to see science translation in action.

This is one of the reasons why one of the many tribes that read BSB are those in business development and licensing (BD&L) or investment roles.

In this post we interviewed the delightful Prof. Akiko Iwasaki from Yale. We’ve also put together commentary on the opportunities and the science behind them, as well as some recent anecdotes gleaned from another expert in one of the fields discussed.

If you are part of a BD&L team then do consider purchasing a group or team license. We’d be happy to have our group sales department discuss this further with you.

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As we continue to follow the emerging KRAS niche longitudinally, we can easily imagine the kind of roller coaster ride that ensues with new product development in oncology R&D.

Early last year we posted an interview with Mirati’s CEO, Dr Chuck Baum, discussing their selective KRASG12C inhibitor.  A year on much has happened in the intervening time – additional competitors and potential collaborators have entered the clinic, a few mechanisms of resistance identified, and numerous combination partners have been suggested.  The company have also aired their own phase 1 data and new trials are expected to open during 2020.

This time around we talk to both Dr Baum and the company’s CSO, Dr James Christensen, about their experiences in the front line in terms of translating the preclinical data into clinical trials, their thoughts on important scientific data as well as the competition, and what to watch out for going forward.

This field is going to not only go fast judging by the emerging research published to date, but it’s also going to get way more complicated than many observers realise.

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What stood out at TCT in Orlando?

Orlando – There have been numerous useful insights into the future of next generation of CAR T cell therapies at the Transplantation and Cellular Therapy Meeting (TCT) that’s currently underway here in Florida.

TCT (formerly BMT Tandem) is the combined meeting of the American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy (ASTCT) and the Center for International Blood & Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR).

It should come as no surprise that the transplant community have embraced cellular therapies.

As we start what experts such as Carl June refer to as “the decade of cell therapy,” what does the next generation of CAR T cell therapy likely look like and how will we overcome some of the challenges associated with this approach?

In this post we’re following developments in the field, and sharing what we’ve learnt so far from thought leaders at the TCT meeting. This is the latest in our recent mini-series of posts on future developments in cellular therapy.

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Attention on small molecule inhibitors – after being in the doldrums for a while – seem to be making a comeback over the last year with much attention focused on a few companies developing new selective agents in specialised niches.

Time for a KRAS spring clean!

One such space is KRAS inhibition. Not just in terms of direct or indirect inhibition, but also with regards to tackling acquired resistance mechanisms such as SHP2.  While there has been quite the frenzy over what Amgen, Mirati, Revolution Medicine and a few others are all doing, other companies are quietly getting on with the business of producing some nice work and will soon be ready for the off.

In our latest review we explore some of the factors involved, which companies will need to be concerned about going forward, especially in the context of future combination strategies.

In solid tumours, with targeted therapies the winners are not always the ones who reached the market first, but rather the crafty ones who optimise the combination strategies and become ingrained in protocols across multiple situations.

Here we look at one of the hidden gems in the KRAS space and explore what it does, why it’s important and how it might fit in.  We also include a company interview with a scientist who gets the broader implications…

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San Francisco!

San Francisco – It’s time to switch horses for some the latest conference coverage and explore some important new findings emerging from the genitourinary world of bladder, prostate, and renal cell cancers at the ASCOGU specialist meeting held late last week.

Not that many years ago, much of this niche was dominated by numerous updates in prostate cancer, with little good cheer to write about on the other two cancers – how things have changed in such a short time!

This year there’s plenty going on in all three categories, I’m pleased to say.

Here we focus on several important trials or targets and explain why they matter and what’s significant about the findings…

Some of the agents or trials selected here are likely to receive more attention going forward as more data become available, so it behooves us to set the scene now.

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