Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts from the ‘Immunotherapy’ category

Last week we reviewed some of the promising oral late breaking abstracts and highlighted what to watch out for (W2W4) from our key selections.

National Harbor, DC

This week, it’s the turn of the poster late breakers to be in the spotlight.

There are several approaches worthy of highlighting, but as always, there are also some potential pitfalls for readers to be aware of.

After all, life in the oncology R&D fast lane is as never easy or predictable as the changing of the seasons.

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One of the biggest challenges that many people have in cancer research is spottng opportunities in a cosntantly swelling sea of data.

That situation gets ever more difficult as the year and cancer conference season goes on and a raft of new data evolves from not just monotherapy studies, but also combination trials.

Add in numerous tumour types and patient subsets…

And then there’s another layer (or five) of additional sophistication from newly emerging targets, different approaches undertaken and novel ideas explored.

Who want’s to play 3D chess?

It’s a little bit like slowly peeling an onion, strip by strip, until we get to the heart of the matter. This can take time. Meanwhile, preclinical data at previous meetings that many barely noticed at the time comes back to be looked at in a fresh light with newly emerging clinical data. And we start to see things quite diffferently with this new information.

Talking on the onion, we decided to kick off our annual SITC series ahead of the event next month with a look at five key presentations that should be interesting and advance the field in terms of potential impact.

National Harbor Maryland

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Cancer immunotherapy has been very much focused on T cells of late, but perhaps we shouldn’t ignore the importance of the innate aspect of the immune system and how that might help generate cytolytic activity to help kill cancer cells.

Regular readers will know that we’ve been following the potential of Natural Killer (NK) cell therapy and targeting NK checkpoints.

Sculpture in Mainz

At the recent CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR international cancer immunotherapy conference in Mainz, we spoke with a scientist active in NK cancer immunotherapy research.

Dr Nicholas Huntington (@Dr_Nick_Bikes) leads a laboratory at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia.  He’s also co-founder of oNKo-innate, a startup company focused on developing innate immunotherapies.

After his presentation in Mainz, he kindly spoke to BSB about his NK cell research and its potential as a novel target for cancer immunotherapy.

Here’s a short excerpt from our discussion:

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Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is a tough disease to deal with given that it is portends poor clinical outcomes, aggressive tumour biology, and early metastatic spread. Not surprisingly, we have seen very little improvements in terms of clinical outcomes with anti-cancer therapeutics. Surgery (for early stage disease) and intense chemotherapy (for metastatic disease) remain the bedrocks of treatment to this day.

From an immunotherapy perspective, there are also additional barriers and hurdles to overcome including, for example, lack of high mutational load, a complex inhibitory tumour microenvironment, and even a physical barrier in the form of the stromal layer.

Not surprisingly, all of these factors combine to make companies reluctant to rush into clinical trials with immune checkpoint blockade, accepting that we really need to understand the underlying tumour biology better before attempting such an endeavour.

At a recent cancer conference we heard an uplifting talk from a research group who are attempting to tackle this issue and offer some pointers on where there may be some near-term opportunities that are worthy of discussion.

Before we can even consider what delivery system or adjuvant to use, we first have to do the scientific investigations into what’s special about exceptional responders and characterize those.

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Mainz – At the recent CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR international cancer immunotherapy conference in Germany, one of the underlying themes of the conference that attracted considerable attention from speakers and poster presenters was neoantigens, and how to generate cancer vaccines directed against them.

One of the European leaders in the field is Professor George Coukos who is Director of the Department of Oncology at the University of Lausanne Hospital and Director of the Lausanne branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

Lausanne is an exciting place for innovative translational oncology work with the Swiss Cancer Center, that Coukos also directs, creating synergy between partner institutions co-located in the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV).

Mainz, Germany

We last spoke to Prof Coukos 18 months ago and much has happened since then. In Mainz, he kindly agreed to speak to BSB again and provide an update on progress.

This time we talked about the cancer vaccine research that he and collaborators such as Dr Lana Kandalaft are pioneering in Lausanne, and how this could best be applied in ovarian cancer.  It was exciting to hear him discuss his vision and some of the ambitious goals he hopes will be possible within the field.

Here’s a short excerpt from the interview – he has an interesting story to tell:

This expert interview is part 5 of our onging mini-series on the Future of Cancer Vaccines.

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Mainz: At the third CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR international cancer immunotherapy conference held in Mainz recently, one of the emerging themes from an exciting and interesting meeting was novel cancer vaccines.

Despite the announcement last month that the Bavarian-Nordic phase 3 PROSTVAC trial in prostate cancer was futile (See post: PROSPECTing for nuggets with PROSTVAC in CRPC), therapeutic cancer vaccine research is experiencing a renaissance.

In this new mini-series, we’re featuring interviews with leading scientists and clinical researchers at the forefront of cancer vaccine research.

Mainz, Germany

It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list of the “good and great,” as not all leaders in the field were actually in Mainz, but nonetheless we hope this series, like a series of postcards, captures some of the excitement along with challenges and opportunities facing researchers at present.

Up next is Professor Cornelius “Kees” Melief, who is Emeritus Professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands and Chief Scientific Officer of ISA Pharmaceuticals – where ISA stands for Immune System Activation.

Earlier this year, Professor Melief received a lifetime achievement award from the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy (CIMT) for his work in research in this niche.

He’s a global expert on cancer vaccine research.  Ironically, back in July he published an editorial in Nature entitled, “Cancer: Precision T-Cell therapy targets tumors” that discussed some two letters on neoantigen cancer vaccine research from other thought leaders we have interviewed in this current mini-series, namely Dr Cathy Wu (Link) and Prof Ugur Sahin (Link).

While, in Mainz, Professor Melief kindly shared his thoughts on the field, where it is going, and how ISA Pharmaceuticals are looking to make a difference.  Here’s an audio postcard for those interested in hearing a sample of what he had to say…

This is the fourth interview in our mini-series on the Future of Cancer Vaccines.

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One of the pioneers and leading entrepreneurs in the development of personalised cancer vaccines is Professor Ugur Sahin.

In addition to being CEO of the privately-held biopharmaceutical company, BioNTech, he holds an academic appointment at the University of Mainz and is Managing Director of the translational research institute TRON.

This makes Mainz the perfect location for a cancer immunotherapy conference. It’s also where the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy (CIMT) is located. They were the local organisers of the 3rd annual CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR cancer immunotherapy conference that we recently attended along with over 1400 people from around the world.

One of the underlying themes of the meeting and the posters was the development of personalised cancer vaccines, which is why we’re doing an extended mini-series based on interviews we did in Germany with leaders in the field.

Prof Sahin is a busy man, but we tracked him down in the poster hall. Here’s a brief excerpt from the impromptu interview he kindly gave to BSB.

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Dr Ira Mellman is a leading cancer researcher, familiar to many in cancer immunotherapy for his work on the Cancer-Immunity Cycle and Cancer-Immune Set-Point with Dr Dan Chen.

Prior to joining Genentech, he spent 20 years as a faculty member at Yale, publishing extensive research on dendritic cells.

River Rhine, Mainz

Last year, Genentech announced a strategic collaboration with Mainz based BioNTech in Germany to develop and manufacture personalized mRNA based cancer vaccines.

At the recent CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR cancer international cancer immunotherapy conference in Mainz, Dr Mellman kindly spoke to BSB about the underlying biology/immunology, the rationale behind the BioNTech collaboration, and his vision on where he sees the potential for therapeutic cancer vaccines going forward.

This is the second post in our series on the Future of Cancer Vaccines.

Here’s a snippet of the interview with Dr Mellman to get you warmed up…

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One of the leaders in the field of neoantigen based cancer vaccine research is Dr Cathy Wu. She’s a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a scientific co-founder of Neon Therapeutics.

Mainz Cathedral

Personalised cancer vaccines are showing exciting promise, and are at the vanguard of what many think of as a renaissance in the field, one that is now attracting the interest of many companies and researchers.

We posted on Neon Therapeutics approach and progress at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference in January, followed by an update on the clinical data from Dr Wu at AACR.

Much has happened since then, however, so it’s a timely juncture to continue the story.

At the recent CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR international cancer immunotherapy conference in Mainz, Dr Wu kindly spoke to BSB about her research, where it’s at, progress to date, and importantly, where things are heading.

This is the first part in our latest mini-series on the future of cancer vaccines.

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