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

Posts from the ‘Lung Cancer’ category

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For historical reference, we originally wrote up our perspectives on the 1L NSCLC landscape in January this year then followed that up with a provocative post outlining out predictions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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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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Yesterday saw the FDA approval of atezolizumab (Tecentriq) for the second-line treatment of metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) (link to company press release).  According to Genentech:

“This approval is based on results from the randomized Phase III OAK and Phase II POPLAR studies. The largest study, OAK, showed that TECENTRIQ helped people in the overall study population live a median of 13.8 months, 4.2 months longer than those treated with docetaxel chemotherapy (median overall survival [OS]: 13.8 vs. 9.6 months; HR = 0.74, 95% CI: 0.63, 0.87). The study enrolled people regardless of their PD-L1 status and included both squamous and non-squamous disease types.”

The FDA approval is largely a broad one in 2L and 3L across PD-L1 expression and histologies [Link]:

“TECENTRIQ is indicated for the treatment of patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who have disease progression during or following platinum-containing chemotherapy. Patients with EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations should have disease progression on FDA-approved therapy for these aberrations prior to receiving TECENTRIQ.”

The approval was widely expected in light of the Phase III OAK trial data presented in the Presidential Symposium at ESMO16 meeting in Copenhagen.

Sign adjacent to #ESMO16 in Copenhagen

Sign adjacent to #ESMO16 in Copenhagen

Imagine hearing live about positive first-line data with pembrolizumab, with and without chemotherapy, negative data from nivolumab in the same setting, the 2L data for atezolizumab and two discussants drilling into both the data and broader impact of these studies to a jam packed audience that even included thought leaders from other tumour types who were also eager to hear the news. To say the atmosphere was electric would be a rather British understatement here.

We previously covered our initial impressions from that session [Link], but we also had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing a leading US thought leader in the lung cancer space after the session to garner his impressions of the data and also some perspectives on the key issues that the field is facing.

The pembro plus chemo data is already providing some controversy amongst various protagonists given there are a number of similar combination trials expected to read out over the next year to 18 months, plus much anticipation from analysts regarding the ditching of chemo for IO combos such as anti-PD–1 plus anti-CTLA–4 (BMS and AstraZeneca have keen stakes here), but what do thought leaders really think of that concept? Is that the slam dunk that many analysts seem to think it is?

This, my friends, is where things start to get a lot more complicated, akin to 3D chess in Star Trek.

What is happening now in advanced NSCLC is not how the market will look in a year or two. In many ways, the rate of approvals are outstripping the pace of science right now, but once the low hanging fruit is gone, competition will need to evolve in much more sophisticated and elegant levels.

With these questions in mind, we have a double header for you today – you can read on to find out more details from our latest though leader interview, supported by some insightful perspectives from a medical oncologist who treats lung cancer patients in private practice. Today’s post therefore covers some wide ranging discussions across the key issues in advanced NSCLC and it’s future direction.

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Please note that subscription prices will increase on Monday 24th, so if you’ve been on the fence about our upcoming coverage of #SITC2016, #ENA2016 (EORTC/NCI/AACR Mol Targets), #ASH16, #SABCS16 and #JPM17 then now is a good time to lock in at the current rates!

Copenhagen – Day 3, Sunday at #ESMO16 was a day to remember on many levels. From being carried forward by a rush of people as a massive crowd was finally let into the Presidential Symposium…

Large crowd of delegates wait patiently to enter ESMO16 Presidential Symposium

Large crowd of delegates wait patiently to enter ESMO16 Presidential Symposium

…to hearing an outstanding discussion of data by one of Europe’s leading lung cancer experts, Professor Jean-Charles Soria (@jsoriamd). He was insightful, engaging, as well as funny in places and was a hard act to follow…

Prof. Soria discussing KEYNOTE-024 data at ESMO 2016

Prof. Soria discussing KEYNOTE-024 data at ESMO 2016

The end result was a day to remember, most significantly it was one where we heard data that will change the standard of care in front-line non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), with the expected approval of pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for patients whose tumors have a high expression of PD-L1 (50% or more).

We’re continuing our daily digest of highlights from sessions we attended at the 2016 European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress here in Denmark.

nyhavn-denmark

The sun has not shone much here in Denmark during the Congress, the above photo of Nyhavn was taken just before the meeting started, but the data at ESMO16 has shone brightly with two more publications online in The New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with their presentation in Sunday’s Presidential Symposium:

Pembrolizumab versus Chemotherapy for PD-L1–Positive Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer (NEJM link)

Nivolumab for Recurrent Squamous-Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck (NEJM link).

This mini-series of daily digests over the 4 days of the Congress is intended to give subscribers a finger on the pulse on some of the buzz and conversation…. and occasionally an alternative perspective. We’ll be writing more detailed posts as part of a post-conference series.

In this post, @MaverickNY offers her topline impressions of the lung cancer data presented in the Presidential Symposium, how this will change how some patients are treated, and the resulting impact on the lung cancer landscape. Cancer Immunotherapy continues to drive changes in clinical practice, and is doing so at a very remarkable pace.

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Lung cancer, along with metastatic melanoma, has been very much to the forefront of attention in cancer immunotherapies with both nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) garnering approval as monotherapy from the FDA in second line treatment of NSCLC. A third molecule, atezolizumab (Tecentriq) has also been submitted to the authorities for this indication and a decision is expected soon.

Morgan Grafitti Wall

Street art in the Chicago West Loop

While no one is in any doubt that the response rates with monotherapy are low (in the 20% range) and the majority of people do not respond, the important thing so far is that when they do, they appear to be very durable responses. People are living longer, much longer than the 2–3 months of incremental improvement we are used to seeing with chemotherapy or targeted therapies.

The race is now on to see how we can improve things for the 80% of people with lung cancer who don’t respond to single agent therapy:

  • What can we do to help them?
  • Which combinations look more encouraging?
  • Should we treat beyond progression?

To answer these questions, we interviewed Dr Stephen Liu and discussed his views on some of the cancer immunotherapy combination studies presented at ASCO last week.

Dr Stephen Liu

Dr Stephen Liu at ASCO 2016

Dr Liu is a lung cancer expert at the Lombardi Cancer Centre at Georgetown University, and is actively involved in numerous clinical trials, particularly in Developmental Therapeutics.

Georgetown’s founding principle is Cura Personalis, which translates as care of the whole person. It “suggests individualized attention to the needs of others, distinct respect for unique circumstances and concerns, and an appropriate appreciation for singular gifts and insights.”

Dr Liu embodies this ideal, advocating for his patients for access to the best research advances, including genomics and clinical trials of promising agents.  At ASCO, he kindly highlighted some of the important findings from Chicago and offered context on why they matter to the field.

He told us one combination was “potentially transformative” and could be “practice changing” in lung cancer with more data.

Intrigued? To find out what these important trials are and which ones to watch out for, subscribers can log-in to read the article.

It’s Friday 13th, a day often feared by the superstitious, but for AstraZeneca it certainly portended good news with the FDA approval of AZD9291 or osimertinib (now Tagrisso) in EGFR T790M mutation-positive lung cancer – three months ahead of the PDUFA date. Jonathan Rockoff, a reporter at the WSJ, was the first to announce it in my Twitter stream:

Tagrisso 80mg

Tagrisso 80 mg. Picture credit: AstraZeneca

The FDA announcement for Tagrisso (generic name is osimertinib) can also be found here and the actual label here.

Note that it is now available under accelerated approval, based on tumor response rate and duration of response. This means that phase III confirmatory trials, including survival data will be needed for full approval.

As part of our ongoing series on the T790M niche, this is also a timely opportunity to catch up with the latest data that was presented earlier this month at the AACR-NCI-EORTC Cancer Therapeutics and Molecular Targets meeting in Boston.

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With the recent approvals of nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in advanced lung cancer as well as new checkpoint inhibitor data presented on atezolizumab at the European Cancer Conference in Vienna, there are several new lung cancer immunotherapy controversies to consider such as…

  • How do we choose between docetaxel chemotherapy versus anti-PD1/PD-L1 immunotherapy?
  • Which checkpoint should we choose?
  • Is the PD-L1 biomarker useful and important?
  • Do the company assays differ?
Dr Jack West

Dr Jack West

Dr Jack West (Seattle) got the ball rolling on some of these issues earlier this month, generating quite a spirited and useful debate on Twitter, demonstrating that clinical decisions in this area are not as cut and dried as many might think.

In addition, we spoke to a number of lung cancer experts in Vienna for their perspectives on the data, the biomarkers, treatment paradigms and other critical issues.

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On Friday last week, AstraZeneca confirmed that their combination trial for osimertinib, as it’s expected to be called or AZD9291, as it’s more commonly known (anti-EGFR mutant, T790M inhibitor) plus durvalumab (MEDI–4736, anti-PD-L1) in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is on clinical hold following an increase in ‘interstitial lung disease-like reports.’

As companies with checkpoint inhibitors and other immunotherapy agents expand beyond monotherapy into logical combinations, is the risk of increased ILD from combining an EGFR inhibitor with a checkpoint something other companies need to watch out for?

By the way, we strongly disagree with the reported conclusion of Goldman Sachs on this issue – and here’s why…

Today’s article explores this controversial issue in more depth.

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