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

Posts tagged ‘AACR 2017 Annual Meeting’

At AACR17 one of the fascinating topics that came up in several presentations was exosomes, what they are, and how the information they contain can be used to best effect.

One of the evangelists of exosomes, and their potential in cancer research is Theresa Whiteside, PhD who is a Professor of Pathology, Immunology and Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh.

At the recent 2017 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting, Dr Whiteside gave two fascinating talks in education symposia.  Afterwards, she kindly spoke to BSB about her research.

Love them or hate them, exosomes were a hot topic in Washington DC and something you should be aware of, if you aren’t already.

This post continues our volley of expert interviews from AACR17 and is the ninth in the series.

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Dr James Gulley is Chief of the Genito-Urinary malignancies branch and Director of the Medical Oncology service at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the National Institutes of Health. He’s a world-leading GU cancer expert and at the forefront of pioneering research to make cancer immunotherapy work in prostate cancer.

We last spoke to him at ASCO 2015 (See post: The future of prostate cancer immunotherapy). You can listen to excerpts from this interview on Episode 4 of the Novel Targets podcast (See: The non-inflamed tumour show).

Almost two years on, and new research by Dr Gulley and colleagues from the NCI shows that the STING pathway may have an important role to play in prostate cancer immunotherapy. Activation of this pathway through a novel mechanism could turn a cold non-inflamed tumor into a more inflamed or hotter one in men with advanced prostate cancer. How cool is that?!

At the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) that was recently held in Washington DC, Dr Gulley graciously spoke to BSB about some of the novel trials that are underway at the NCI, with the aim of making cancer immunotherapy work in men with advanced prostate cancer.

Dr Jim Gulley, NCI at AACR17

This is the seventh expert interviews in our series from AACR17 where we explore the conundrum:

How does Dr Gulley plan to light the immune camp fire in prostate cancer?

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Over the years we’ve interviewed folks from numerous pharma and biotech companies here on BSB, including those with targeted therapies (small and large), as well as immunotherapies.

Some companies have small pipelines and may be forced by circumstances to explore what they have or seek collaborations with bigger partners.

For big pharmas with large pockets plus broad and deeper pipelines, the challenge is quite different – how do you prioritise potential combinations and tumour targets given it is impossible to evaluate them all in the clinic? How do you create differential advantage and value when you’re relatively later to market compared to your competitors?

In the BSB spotlight this week we have two researchers in clinical development and R&D from the same company, who happen to have both elements in their pipeline in areas of high competition.

Part one of our latest mini-series explores the IO side of the business as we look ‘Through the Keyhole’ at what’s going on in terms of biomarkers, monotherapy trials, combination studies (both IO-IO and IO-targeted) and what to expect in the near-term future later this year. It’s a wide ranging, candid, and fascinating discussion that highlights a lot of potential in terms of what could happen with a large pipeline.

In all, it makes for rather interesting reading and certainly changed how I perceived the company’s efforts in the IO sphere (for the better, I might add).  So what’s fascinating about their approach and what can we learn from their progress to date?

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Long time attendees at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) know that there are usually interesting posters and sessions buried on the last day of the meeting.

This year was no exception, with a major symposium on CAR T Cell Cancer Immunotherapy chaired by Michael Jensen MD (pictured right).

BSB readers will recall we interviewed him at the 2016 BMT Tandem meeting in Honolulu (See post: Optimizing CD19 CAR T cell therapy).  Excerpts from this interview also featured in Episode 14 – Cell Therapy Pioneers of the Novel Targets Podcast.

The CAR T symposium on the last day of AACR was one of my highlights of the meeting. The three speakers were:

  • Michael Jensen, MD (Seattle Children’s) Engineering Next Generation CAR T cells using Synthetic Biology-Inspired Technologies
  • Terry J. Fry, MD (National Cancer Institute) Defining and overcoming limitations of CD19 CAR immunotherapy in pediatric ALL
  • Christine E. Brown, PhD (City of Hope) Progress and Challenge in CAR T Cell Therapy for Brain Tumors

Each of these presentations would merit a full blog post in their own right, but in this particular post we’re focusing on CAR T cell therapy targeting glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

GBM is the most common primary malignant brain tumor, and one with a dismal prognosis – the 5-year survival rate is only around 5%, so there is also a high unmet medical need for new effective treatment options. This devastating disease has proven to be a miserable graveyard for Pharma over the last decade, with many agents unfortunately ending up in dog drug heaven.

After her AACR17 presentation, Dr Brown kindly spoke to BSB.

This post is part of our series of thouight leader interviews from AACR17. It also continues our ongoing posts on the adoptive cellular therapy landscape, and in particular, CAR modified T cells.

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The majority of patients do not respond to cancer immunotherapy. That’s a fact. If you don’t have an immune response to start with, there’s no point giving a checkpoint inhibitor on its own because there are no T cells present in the tumor.

Dr Bernie Fox (@BernardAFox), a world leading cancer immunotherapy expert from Earle Chiles Research Institute in Portland, nailed this a year ago on the Novel Targets Podcast:

“What I teach the first year medical students is that if you have metastatic cancer, the only thing that makes a difference in your life is whether you’ve got your immune system turned on. If it’s not turned on, it doesn’t make a difference what you get, chemo, radiation, surgery, you aren’t going to do well.”

Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC

As we have seen with targeted therapies, drugs can also stop working as a result of acquired resistance. This is also true with cancer immunotherapy treatment.  Cancer constantly evolves and finds ways to bypass or evade detection or ways to kill it.

Faced with a complex jigsaw where we only have some of the pieces in place and an evil double sided version as a model for sneaky advanced cancers, where are we in overcoming cancer immunotherapy resistance?

At the recent AACR annual meeting we spoke with a rising star – an up and coming thought leader in the field of cancer immunotherapy who has taken all the disparate information out there and come up with a perspective on where the field is at and where it needs to go.

Jason Luke MD FACP (@jasonlukemd) is an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago where, as a medical oncologist, he leads multiple early stage cancer immunotherapy drug development trials and treats patients with melanoma.

Dr Jason Luke AACR17

Working with colleagues such as Dr Tom Gajewski, he has a unique perspective on cancer immunotherapy resistance, and how to overcome this. Dr Luke kindly spoke to BSB in Washington DC.

This is the 3rd post in our series of expert interviews from AACR17.

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Dr Daniel Chen, Roche/Genentech at AACR17

Dr Daniel Chen in the Meet the Expert session at AACR17

At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR17) one of the 7am “Meet the Expert” sessions was with Dr Daniel Chen.

Chen is a medical oncologist and immunologist. He’s also Vice President, Global Head of Cancer Immunotherapy at Genentech and Roche.

He’s perhaps best known in the cancer immunotherapy field for his publication on the Cancer Immunity Cycle with fellow Genentech VP, Dr Ira Mellman. They have a new publication out on the Cancer-Immune Set Point that takes this forward. (See post: Understanding the Cancer-Immune Set Point).

If you missed it, do listen to Chen & Mellman on Episode 11 of the Novel Targets Podcast recorded in New Orleans during the 2016 AACR annual meeting.

At AACR17, Dr Chen kindly spoke to BSB about his vision for cancer immunotherapy. Anyone who has seen the film, “Jerry Maguire” starring Tom Cruise will remember the moment when Jerry drafts the memo on “The future of our business.”

What does the future of cancer immunotherapy look like from the perspective of a leading industry professional active in the field?

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AACR17 audience

AACR17 audience in Washington DC

Over the last few years we’ve written a tremendous about primary and acquired resistance, both in oncogenic and immunotherapies, as well as on combination strategies for turning non-responders into responders and overcoming acquired resistance that induces clinical relapse.

These concepts were still on display in Washington DC at the 2017 annual meeting for American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), but beyond those obvious top line points, what are the next round of ideas and tools that cancer researchers are focusing on?

Based on numerous presentations, ad hoc discussions, as well as over a dozen one to one interviews we completed with oncology thought leaders, some useful and encouraging trends emerged.

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We’ve been saying for a while that 2017 and onwards would be when we start to see a few IO combination trials start to shake out. Interestingly, that process seems to have already started, if recent news is any thing to go by.

With this in mind, the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) coming up this weekend gives us a timely moment to explore combinations that are looking interesting… or not.

In the last of our AACR 2017 Conference Previews, we take a look at what to expect on this year’s program in the IO and Checkpoint arena. In short, it’s quite a lot and not without some controversy either!

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It’s finally time…

US Capitol Building, DC

By popular request from BSB readers, we have a CAR T cell therapy preview of the main abstracts to watch out for, including talks and posters, and what emerging themes to expect are likely to be.

If you are registered on the AACR site and signed in, then clicking on any of the abstracts highlighted in this review will enable you to add any interesting ones you fancy to your conference itinerary.

There’s a surprising amount to cover this year, especially when we consider the incredible work that’s ongoing to address a number of suboptimal aspects in the construct developments.  It’s continuing to progress at warp speed, so hold onto your hats and buckle down for our latest rock around the AACR clock.

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Molecular biology was a hot new topic back in its infancy in the late 1980’s just as I was finishing my doctorate – cue moment of realising you’ve missed a big wave before it really even started!

Springtime in DC

These days scientists now delve in the realm of deeper molecular biology and go much further than mere genes… it’s all about transcription factors, super enhancers, chromatin complexes, bromodomains, and even chromodomains. In the past, many of these drivers were often considered ‘undruggable’ – think MYC or RAS, for example.

The world of molecular biology is rapidly changing as researchers understand pathways and processes associated with carcinogenesis better, thereby enabling new approaches to evolve and with it, valid new targets for therapeutic intervention.

This field is always one of my favourite ones to cover at AACR, where we not only learn about exciting new research from investigators, but also up and coming young biotech companies that are doing good work who deserve to be highlighted.

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