Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts from the ‘Lung Cancer’ category

After writing about the 1L NSCLC landscape every quarter last year, I was thinking the other day that we were due another update and discussion on this riveting topic again soon and added it to the editorial calendar of topics to write about on BSB.

It was therefore no surprise to hear Merck’s announcement this morning that their phase 3 trial KEYNOTE-189 exploring pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy hit its co-primary endpoints and is now the second study to do so after Genentech/Roche’s announcement for atezolizumab plus chemo plus the VEGF inhibitor, bevacizumab was a success.

Are we at a crossroad for lung cancer?  With many more readouts yet to come competition in this space is certainly heating up dramatically!

Meanwhile, there are a few important implications to consider here, so we sat down and penned an update based on the emerging data and highlight some key insights to consider…

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Geneva: At the ESMO IO 2017 conference underway in Geneva, the data of the meeting is the IMpower150 phase 3 trial data that will be presented later today by Dr Martin Reck (Grosshandsdorf).

Genentech/Roche have announced a press release ahead of the presentation (Link).

This is the first phase 3 lung cancer immunotherapy trial that combines a VEGF inhibitor (bevacizumab/Avastin), along with a PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor (atezolizumab/Tecentriq) together with chemotherapy (carboplatin plus paclitaxel).

While we’ve not seen the actual data curves yet, we spoke to Dr Dan Chen (Genentech) about what we can expect to see later today in Geneva, and importantly, we also discussed the significance of the findings from the IMpower150 study.

As Dr Chen told BSB, “this trial is a lot of firsts.”

If you have an interest in lung cancer or immunotherapy, do follow #ESMOImmuno17 on Twitter, as this is data could potentially be practice changing and have a major impact on the lung cancer treatment landscape.

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Yesterday in part 1 (Link) of our latest mini-series, we looked at the SCLC landscape and some of the key background issues to think about.

This time around in part 2 we drill down focus more specifically on Rova-T, including physician and patient sentiments and in particular, what to watch out for with the upcoming phase 2 TRINITY readout.   There’s a lot to consider here so we’ve broken the analysis down to five key areas.

Mystic Meg is also back with her canny predictions – what does the crystal ball portend for Rova-T and the TRINITY trial?  Caveat: she’s been on a tear of late; this situation will not continue forever.

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Many of the questions we received from BSB readers this month was a plea from several folks to answer numerous queries about small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and the anti-DLL3 ADC, Rova-T, in particular.

Of course I’m happy to oblige, but this was way too big a topic for inclusion in Friday’s mailbag.

Cornish Tin Mine

What makes a lot more sense here is a short two-part mini series where we look at the dismal landscape of the disease and then consider the red and green flags that arise from the Rova-T development.

With the interim results expected from the phase 2 TRINITY trial in 2H17, this is a timely moment to sit down and reflect on what to expect.

In the first part of the series, we walk through SCLC as a disease, including what is known and what to consider when contemplating a new therapy here.

In the second part tomorrow we will focus more specifically on Rova-T and what to watch out for.

So let’s rock and roll with a look at the SCLC landscape…

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Periodically, we post an analysis and look at a particular landscape and the leading competitors within. One area of rather intense interest that we have been following is the progress (or march might be more precise) of checkpoint blockade in previously untreated metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (1L NSCLC).

Our extensive reviews and discussions in this area have included a look at:

In addition, I last posted my recent predictions on this space in July this year and already quite a bit has happened since then!

With a bunch of other phase 3 trial readouts coming up over the next couple of months, it’s now time for another update on what to watch out for, what to expect and why some studies can be handicapped differently.

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There has been considerable focus on the impact of cancer immunotherapy and checkpoint blockade in particular in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) of late, with approval of several agents in the 1L and 2L metastatic setting, as well as positive results reported in stage 3 unresectable disease earlier this year.

To date, the approvals have focused on monotherapies in second-line (nivolumab, pembrolizumab and atezolizumab) allcomers, as well as in 1L in two cases i.e. for people who are PD-L1 High expressers (≥ 50%) for pembrolizumab or allcomers in combination with chemotherapy (pembrolizumab).

Today as part of their 2Q earnings call details, AstraZeneca ($AZN) announced that the MYSTIC trial exploring the combination of the anti-PD-L1 antibody, durvalumab (Imfinzi), plus anti-CTLA–4 antibody, tremelimumab, unfortunately missed the interim endpoint of progression-free survival (PFS).

This is the first dual IO-IO combo readout in this setting and while disappointing, the results aren’t entirely surprising, as regular readers will no doubt realise.

We are now awaiting several other trial readouts in 1L NSCLC, including Merck’s phase 3 confirmatory trial for pembrolizumab plus chemo and Genentech/Roche’s IMpower150 trial, which explores atezolizumab in combination with chemotherapy, with and without the anti-VEGF inhibitor, bevacizumab (Avastin).

For historical reference, we originally wrote up our perspectives on the 1L NSCLC landscape in January this year then followed that up with a provocative post outlining out predictions on what to expect earlier this month, including the projected miss in PFS for AstraZeneca’s IO combo.

So what does this latest data mean for AZN?

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Back in January this year, we posted an early look on what to expect from the evolving 1L NSCLC landscape following the controversial FDA submission of Merck’s pembrolizumab with chemotherapy. This lead to subsequent approval in May.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin July 2017

At that time, quite a few people were shocked and surprised that the phase 2 KEYNOTE–021 Cohort G data presented ESMO was neatly parlayed into accelerated approval in the US.

Since then, a lot has happened and now many readers are on tenterhooks as we await the next round of lung cancer trial results in the upfront setting.

First up is AstraZeneca’s MYSTIC trial exploring an IO-IO combination with durvalumab plus tremelimumab. Merck’s confirmatory trial for pembrolizumab plus chemo is also expected in the fall – will it support the accelarated approval – or not? Meanwhile, we also await Roche/Genentech’s IMpower150 study evaluating their checkpoint inhibitor, atezolizumab, in combination with chemotherapy by the year end.

These are quite different strategies with diverse endpoints so following them closely will be key to understanding what happens next.  Based on what we’ve seen in lung cancer to date, the roller coaster looks set to continue.  The C-suite shenanigans have only added to the intrigue and mystique – do they mean anything?  Who knows, but we’re focusing on the hard data i.e. science and the clinical clues that are available.

It’s all to play for and many readers wrote in asking for an update on the landscape and what to expect now that we’re much nearer to the shoes actually dropping.

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Until recently, we followed the race to market in EGFR T790M lung cancer with Clovis’s rociletinib and AstraZeneca’s osimertinib (Tagrisso).  In phase 2, AstraZeneca caused quite a stir when they came from behind and leapfrogged their biotech rival with a large global randomized controlled trial seemingly out of nowhere.  They never looked back.

Can they do the same thing with durvalumab (Imfinzi), one of their IO therapies that targets PD-L1?

If there’s one thing that many astute observers of the IO space have learned this week it’s that irrational exuberance and the hopeful sentiment that ‘everything’ will just tweak the immune system and work positively no matter what has thankfully come to an end.

We’ve seen several highs and lows already with Merck’s pembrolizumab gaining accelerated approval in 1L NSCLC in allcomers when combined with chemotherapy and AstraZeneca reporting positive phase 3 data for durvalumab in unresectable (stage 3) NSCLC based on meeting the study endpoint (PFS).

There is much to be learned because the nivolumab disaster in 1L NSCLC last year was not a singular aberration given that durvalumab has seen some missteps in the past and even atezolizumab had some unexpected news with urothelial cancer this week (Check out our insights), as compared to chemo in the second line setting. Just like mutations, there will be many more to come, perhaps even some additional ones before the year is out.

What about today’s news from AstraZeneca in unresectable NSCLC?

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Tropomyosin receptor kinase (TRK) inhibitors are not a name that rolls off the tongue easily and yet this niche is attracting a lot of interest from observers curious to learn more about a highly targeted approach to rare oncogenes such as TRK, ROS1 and ALK that occur in several different tumour types.

Much of the focus has been on the more commonly expressed ALK-positive lung cancers with crizotinib, ceritinib, alectinib, brigatinib, lorlatinib and others. Crizotinib also targets ROS1 and is approved by the FDA in metastatic NSCLC whose tumors are ROS1-positive.

As the next part of the development in this sphere, TRK and ROS1 mutations are now in the spotlight. Indeed, we have been reporting on the data since 2014, which has been encouraging thus far, particularly from two companies, namely Ignyta and Loxo Oncology.  These two agents differ in that entrectinib targets TRK/ROS1/ALK whereas larotrectinib is a specific pan TRK inhibitor.

There was a new raft of data at the recent AACR annual meeting and more data is expected at the forthcoming ASCO conference.

Here, we take a look under the hood through the lens of one of the small biotechs in this space via a candid interview with Ignyta CEO, Dr Jonathan Lim.

Dr Jonathan Lim, CEO Ignyta

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Challenges and Opportunities in the evolving 1L NSCLC Landscape

Rolling English Landscape in Devon

Following a series of events – from BMS’s failure with nivolumab monotherapy… to Merck’s sudden announcement to file their combination of pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy… to AstraZeneca’s delay of the MYSTIC trial exploring durvalumab plus tremelimumab this week, there’s never a dull moment in lung cancer!

So can we expect some more surprises in store in 1L NSCLC?

I say yes we can!  

The big questions are what are they and what impact will they have?

2017 is ironically, the year of the Rooster – so who’s going to crow loudly at dawn and who is going to get strangled in the process?

In the world of cancer research it is unlikely that everything wins or is successful, so figuring out the early signs and hints is an important part of the process.

One thing I learned early in this business is that it pays for companies to be humble, flexible and open minded rather than arrogant and dogmatic in their thinking… otherwise you can easily be blindsided.

There were a few examples of that in oncology R&D last year, a repeat could very well follow in 2017 for the unwary.

Here we look at 1L NSCLC in the context of multiple phase 3 trials that are slated to read out… from AstraZeneca, BMS, Merck and Genentech.

If you want to know what the potential impact of these events are on the landscape, including what we can expect from MYSTIC, CheckMate-227 and several others, then this is the post for you because some surprises are likely in store.

We cut through the chase to explain the what and the why in clear simple language.

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