Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘AML’

As part of our #JPM18 coverage we like to feature up and coming companies to watch out for, one of these is Syros Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SYRS). In this post we take a look at what’s on the horizon for the company in 2018?

Myelofibrosis has certainly been in the news this week with Celgene acquiring Impact Biosciences for fedratinib and both Celgene and Incyte presenting their annual update at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco.

Yesterday at JPM, Syros and Incyte announced a new collaboration to explore myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN):

“… The companies have entered into a target discovery, research collaboration and option agreement. Under the agreement, Syros will use its proprietary gene control platform to identify novel therapeutic targets with a focus in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), and Incyte will receive options to obtain exclusive worldwide rights to intellectual property resulting from the collaboration for up to seven validated targets. Incyte will have exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialize any therapies under the collaboration that modulate those validated targets.”

Given the need to find new targets and potential combination agents to partner with JAK2 inhibitors such as ruxolitinib (Jakafi), this deal makes a lot of sense.

It also leaves Syros and Incyte with space to continue developing their existing pipelines in the usual fashion without any undue commitment or conflict.

Syros are a company we have been following for three years now, with several updates on BSB, including thought leader and C-suite interviews.

With new data presented at ASH and SABCS last month, it was a good time for an update on this topic, so we sat down with Dr Nancy Simonian (CEO) for a chat about where they are and where they are going with their current small molecule pipeline ahead of their presentation at JPM18.

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Buried amongst the intense hurly burly of a major medical meeting such as the American Society of Hematology (ASH) are the unsung preclinical researchers whose work largely makes clinical development possible. After all, few sensible companies would bet on an expensive clinical trial program, especially in combination, without first knowing whether such an approach is rational or not and has a decent shot of working efficaciously.

At stake here is the potential for building a blockbuster cancer drug niche by niche.

Venetoclax (BCL-2 inhibitor) got off to a somewhat slow start compared to say, ibrutinib (BTK inhibitor), which had a much broader initial indication and a lower risk of tumour lysis syndrome (TLS), yet it may actually have a wider application across multiple hematologic malignancies. This could well end up as one of those classic tortoise versus hare stories in the long run.

Back in 2013, we posted five interviews conducted with a range of experts including:

  • Dr Oliver Sartor (prostate cancer)
  • Dr Susan O’Brien (CLL)
  • Dr Deepak Sampath (BCL-2 and ABT-199)
  • Dr John Jenkins (then deputy director at the FDA)
  • Dr Renier Brentjens (CAR-T cell therapy)

To put this in context, consider that we just recorded 15 interviews at ASH this year alone!

As regular readers know, we like to follow people and R&D stories over time, so while in Atlanta at ASH17 we took the opportunity to move a particular story forward – we wanted to learn where Dr Sampath and his colleagues are now and also where they are headed next. This gives readers a head start on anticipating what future clinical developments might be mentioned at JPM18 by either Genentech/Roche or AbbVie.

In our latest expert interview, we pick up and continue the discussion with Deepak Sampath to find out what’s happening with venetoclax four years on… it turns out quite a lot and makes for very interesting reading indeed.

Dr Deepak Sampath (Genentech)

Curious to now more about what this scientist and his work in BCL-2 targeting is all about?  Check out this short excerpt:

 

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One of my favourite areas to follow in oncology research is Developmental Therapeutics, whether they be targeted, genomic, epigenetic or immune therapies. At some point, even currently approved products started off life in this category, either in preclinical research or in early phase 1 trials.

It’s almost like a primordial soup from which future pipelines spring.

Following these initial approaches over time can be useful in many ways – you can pick up new trends and emerging drugs earlier than most, and can also step back to see a broader picture of the landscape as it evolves.

While there are no formal developmental therapeutics sessions at the American Society for Hematology (ASH) annual meeting per se, that doesn’t stop the intrepid scientist from creating their own selection, in fact it’s a lot more fun this way!

That’s exactly what I’ve attempted here…

Be warned though, this year, the mix is much more complex and intriguing with a lot of interesting and, in some cases, novel targets to explore and consider, including the deeper and tricky protein-protein ones to hit, which are now receiving more attention as researchers find more creative and indirect ways to tackle the problem.

Our second ASH 2017 Preview goes deep into what for many BSB readers will be intriguing, yet for others… completely unknown.

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Over the last four or five weeks we have seen some truly remarkable research published by numerous cancer researchers around the globe… which means that it’s time for another Journal Club review of key research to feature some cool science.

Here, we have selected half a dozen key papers of interest in both solid tumours and hematological malignancies that are well worth reading and digesting.  The impact from many of these may well lead to new molecules being explored.  We also include at least one review paper for BSB readers to peruse.

While much of the focus is inevitably on lung cancer and melanoma of late, we also highlight important research in pancreatic cancer, aggressive lymphomas and AML.

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Coney Island Roller Coaster

In the roller coaster of life that is oncology R&D, molecules come and molecules go… a rare few reach blockbuster heights while many others are quietly packed off to dog drug heaven, never to be seen or heard of again.

This is also very true of targets as well…

What about the in-between space?

Unfortunately, that’s where most molecules and cancer targets end up – into a deep black nothingness where we seek the high affinity targets with low grade side effects – and fall short in some way. It’s a frustrating place to be, to be sure.

One of these conundrums is compounds against CD123 (IL3Rα), which have been in the spotlight on and off this year and are turning out to be a rather mixed bag.

After our recent update on Cellectis and their CD123 direct CAR T cell therapy (UCART123), I wasn’t expecting to write any more on this until ASH in mid December. How wrong that prediction turned out to be!

Today we have quite a few things to discuss on this topic, so if interested in CD123 in hematologic malignancies and going beyond that to find better targets in AML then this is the poster for you…

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Paris – amazingly it’s now 3 years since we interviewed Cellectis (NASDAQ: $CLLS) CEO André Choulika and CSO Philippe Duchateau (See post: Can Cellectis revolutionise CAR T cell therapy):

Cellectis CSO CEO

Cellectis Senior Management – Drs Duchateau and Choulika

Since then, we’ve followed the company over time, including an interview with one of their leading scientists, Dr Julianne Smith at ASH 2014, followed by the initial results of their first allogeneic CAR T cell therapy UCART19 presented at #ASH15 by Professor Qasim.

It’s hard to believe 3 years have gone by so quickly! As regular readers know what we often do on BSB is follow stories longitudinally, so while in Paris for an Immuno-Oncology Summit we thought it a rather timely opportunity to revisit Cellectis and take stock of where they’re at and ask what the future may hold for them?

With the recent news that Gilead have acquired Kite Pharma, there’s going to be a lot of interest in what companies such as Cellectis are doing to bring allogeneic “off the shelf” CAR T cell therapy to market.

This is the penultimate post in our summer mini-series on gene editing and allogeneic CAR T cell therapy and features a candid interview with Dr Philippe Duchateau, Chief Scientific Officer, at Paris based Cellectis.

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Sunny Day in Orlando, FL

Orlando, FL was the place to be last week thanks to two specialist meetings in town: BMT Tandem 2017 #BMTTandem17 (joint meeting of ASBMT and CIBMTR), and the inaugural ASCO-SITC Clinical Immuno-Oncology Symposium #Immunosym.  Indeed, several speakers spoke at both events!

Throughout this week we’ll be writing about the insights we gained from the two meetings into the latest data and trends in immunotherapy, immuno-oncology and adoptive cell therapy.

We’re kicking off with cell therapy insights from the BMT Tandem Meeting. It’s the joint meeting of the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation and Center for International Blood & Marrow Transplant Research. If you don’t already, do follow the ASBMT President for 2017-2018 Dr Krishna Komanduri, @drkomanduri. He’s actively involved in CAR T cell therapy trials in Miami.

It’s worth remembering that bone marrow transplanters led the way in the use of immunotherapy to provide cures for cancer. Today, the BMT transplant community are pioneering adoptive cell therapy, and in particular  CAR T cell therapy in multiple hematologic malignancies including ALL, NHL, CLL and Multiple Myeloma. This makes the annual BMT Tandem meeting one to watch for some of the latest cell therapy data.

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This week certainly turned out to be a defining tale of two drugs with a chequered history…

Lion DancersFirst off, the FDA approved AbbVie/Genentech’s venetoclax, now known as Venclexta, in a subset of CLL patients with 17p deletions. These patients have a historically poor prognosis and the approval goes some way to addressing the high unmet medical need.

Secondly, another biotech company, Clovis Oncology, got slammed by ODAC with a 12-1 vote to wait for phase 3 data from the TIGER-3 trial for rociletinib to better determine the efficacy:safety benefit profile.

For a long while it seemed that AbbVie had nothing but toil and trouble over the tumour lysis syndrome (TLS) issues giving them some significant challenges to overcome, while Clovis were one of the new darlings of Wall Street.

In the final dash to the market, the tables were turned almost at the 11th hour and fortunes stunningly reversed.  Yet a mere eighteen months ago, few industry watchers would have predicted the difference in outcomes.

In our latest AACR Preview series, we take a look at Bcl2 inhibition and where some of the emerging opportunities might lie based on new preclinical research that is being presented here in New Orleans this weekend.  It makes for interesting reading.

While one tiger is licking its wounds, another is smacking it chops at what the future might hold for new combination approaches; how the tails have literally turned.

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Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is challenging disease to treat and quite distinctly different from its cousin, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).  The first is more common in adults, while the second is more prevalent in children.  Success rates with pediatric ALL have far outstripped what we have achieved with adults in AML to date, partly due to the elderly nature of the disease making for poorer outcomes with stem cell transplants (SCT), as well as increased clonal heterogeneity and cytogenetic complexity with age.

Quite a few FLT3 inhibitors have come and gone over the years – many keen observers will remember Cephalon’s (now Teva) TKI called CEP-701, which was tested in relapsed/refractory disease and Elderly AML, for example, and slid off largely unnoticed to dog drug heaven.

How much does clinical trial design impact a drug’s success or failure?

Sometimes quite a bit, as this story with midostaurin demonstrates; limited activity in advanced disease but much more dramatic results in the upfront setting.  Clearly, sometimes testing drugs in later disease does not predict their future performance elsewhere!

To put more colour on the data presented at ASH, we interviewed a thought leader in adult AML for his perspective on the FLT3 R&D developments.

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Have you ever sat in a freezing cold scientific session and been so engrossed in the compelling presentations that followed, you simply forgot to take notes? Not one. That actually happened to me at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Philadelphia this year in one of the many fringe sessions that I attended.

Reading Terminal Clock

Reading Terminal Clock, Philadelphia

Granted, the hot topic of the conference was undoubtedly checkpoint inhibition, but I was anxious to escape to the comfort of some meaty and familiar basic and translational science, namely MYC.  MYC is largely thought to be a difficult to target, even undruggable protein, and along with RAS and p53, represents a formidable challenge for cancer researchers.  These three oncogenic proteins alone are probably responsible for more drug resistance developing and even death from cancer than any other proteins in a patient with advanced disease.

For cancer patients with advanced disease, the clock is ticking on time they have left.

Solve these three problems (MYC, RAS and p53) and we may have a shot at dramatically improving outcomes. As Dr Gerard Evan (Cambridge) noted:

“I think it’s fair to say that we don’t really know why interruption of any oncogenic signal actually kills cancer cells, but one of the reasons that we’re interested in MYC is because it seems to be a common downstream effector of many, maybe all cancers.”

Sure, the road to success is paved with an enormous graveyard of failures, just as metastatic melanoma was before checkpoint blockade came along, ironically.  What I heard at AACR both inspired and filled me with greater confidence… we’re finally getting somewhere.

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