Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘AstraZeneca’

Dr Bernie Fox (@BernardAFox) is a man on a mission to #FinishCancer, a Twitter hashtag he uses to reflect his vision.

A cancer immunotherapy rockstar, Bernard A Fox, PhD, is the Harder Family Endowed Chair for Cancer Research at Providence Center Center and Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular and Tumor Immunology at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute in Portland, Oregon.

Fox is also a past president of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) and CEO of UbiVac, a biotechnology company focused on therapeutic cancer vaccines.

Readers of the Blog and Novel Targets Podcast listeners will recall we had the privilege to interview Dr Fox back at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting in New Orleans in 2016: “AACR Cancer Immunotherapy Insights from Dr Bernard Fox.”

Fast forward 18 months… it is now time for a detailed update on this issue, as a few interesting events have since come to light in this niche with Genentech/Roche abandoning development of their OX40 agonist, coupled with several new publications from different labs suggesting that concurrent administration of an anti-OX40 antibody with an anti-PD1 antibody attenuated the effect of anti-OX40 and resulted in poor treatment outcomes in mouse models.

Dr Fox kindly spoke to Biotech Strategy Blog about some of the key learnings from this research, where he sees the future potential for OX40, and what his vision for cancer immunotherapy is.

Here’s a short clip from the fireside chat…

 

He’s definitely a man on a mission to #FinishCancer!

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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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It amuses me to realise that I’ve been writing about and following PARP inhibition since 2006 or so, when the field was in that twilight zone of early drug development between preclinical and clinical, thus just beginning to hit some sort of consciousness and broader interest in cancer research.

The AACR Molecular Targets meeting in 2009 was the first scientific meeting I covered as a science writer on the old Pharma Strategy Blog, which focused on early drug development from preclinical to phase 2 – after that I would rapidly lose interest and move on to the next new shiny scientific lure to research and discuss. No doubt this eager new writer ran about like an overenthusiastic little puppy in the poster halls chatting to scientists about their research, much to the amusement of the more staid press room, who at that time probably never ventured out of the darkened basement gloom.

In one of the press briefings there, I met an engaging and thoughtful scientist who was presenting his poster on PARP and synthetic lethality. He kindly took the time to explain in plain English a commonsense analogy that was most helpful for grasping complex concepts. Having sat through several long talks from luminaries in the field such as Drs Hillary Calvert and Alan Ashworth that covered double strand breaks and DNA repair mechanisms, it was a most welcome respite in the hurly burly of the conference!

Imagine his imagery…

You have a four legged coffee table or wooden chair and one of the legs breaks off or is damaged. The table remains standing, albeit less stable than before. Now a second leg breaks, and inevitably, the table is so unstable that it falls over.

Once you grasp that simple analogy for synthetic lethality, you have the basic idea of DNA double strand breaks and how inefficient repair can lead to vulnerabilities in the tumour that can be exploited.

The scientist I spoke to in Boston back in 2009 was Dr Mark O’Connor.

He was involved in DNA damage response research at a little known private company in Cambridge, UK called KuDos, who were subsequently acquired by AstraZeneca. Nearly a decade on and Dr O’Connor is still at the company; he now heads up their DNA damage response area.

Dr Mark O’Connor, AZN

With olaparib (Lynparza) since approved by the FDA in ovarian cancer and slated for the ASCO 2017 plenary session for HER2- breast cancer, things have certainly changed a lot since those early heady days of KuDos and the R&D journey has not been without its notable ups and downs along the way.

In Chicago earlier this month, I had the pleasure of catching up again with Dr O’Connor to learn more about the journey, and importantly, where things are going next.  It’s quite an interesting roller coaster ride, to be sure!

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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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Today we continue the second of a two part interview with a global thought leader who is also a scientist-clinician and well versed in cancer research as well as clinical trials.

Old Town Hall, Munchen

We explore how we can do clinical trials better in order to learn via a more rigorous process what works, what doesn’t, and why. After all, we we don’t know why certain approaches didn’t work or what the mechanisms of resistance are, how can we possibly improve?

Randomness is not necessarily a good thing in clinical research, especially if you don’t know what target you’re actually trying to hit!

If you missed the first part of this latest KOL interview and want to catch up then you can find it here (Link).

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Part 3 of our series on Gems from the Poster Halls at ESMO continues with a look at another four important combination studies that may be of keen interest to readers.

These include both targeted therapies as well as immunotherapies.

Some of the posters I was originally keen to write about turned out a little unexpectedly with some issues to address i.e. lack of efficacy or unwanted toxicities based on the dosing schedule used and may require tweaking of the dosing, schedule or trial design. Others will unfortunately be destined for dog drug heaven unless a new tumour type offers more promise. Such is the R&D roller coaster that is oncology – sometimes we forget that more compounds fail than make it market.

The good news is that there were plenty of promising approaches that are worthy of writing up and discussing. In the third part of our poster mini-series, we take another deeper dive with a careful look at some new data in Copenhagen.

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One of the surprise controversies at ESMO16 was the fall-out between Myriad Genetics (NASDAQ: MYGN) and Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO) over whether the company’s PARP inhibitor, niraparib, should require a companion diagnostic for the treatment of women with platinum-sensitive ovarian cancer in the maintenance setting. We previously wrote about this from Copenhagen (Link).

christianhavn

Christianhavn

Tesaro were so keen on controlling their message, in the run-up to ESMO, they even went to the trouble of taking out a legal injunction against Myriad Genetics in an attempt to prevent them publishing their own press release discussing the niraparib data.

We knew about this “off the record” at ESMO, but it’s now a matter of public knowledge and John Carroll admirably reported the story on Endpoints last week (Link).

It is a sad reflection on any biotech partnership or pharma alliance if you can’t reach an agreement in private, and have to resort to an injunction in US Federal Court. Doubly unfortunate when you lose the injunction too!

As many readers are already aware, back in June 2014 AstraZeneca failed to convince an FDA ODAC about the merits of olaparib in the same indication that Tesaro are seeking. This is why the data for Tesaro and their regulatory/commercial approach justifies careful scrutiny.

What’s more, data from Myriad Genetics was key to AstraZeneca obtaining a subsequent indication for olaparib in more advanced ovarian cancer, so their experience in this space cannot be dismissed.

dr-johnathan-lancaster

Johnathan M. Lancaster MD PhD

At ESMO, the Myriad Genetics Laboratory Chief Medical Officer, Dr Johnathan Lancaster kindly spoke to BSB.

He shared his perspective on the niraparib data and why a companion diagnostic should be considered based on the NOVA trial data presented by Dr Mansoor Mirza. You can read more about the data in The NEJM paper that was published simultaneously (Link).

Dr Lancaster was formerly Director of the Center for Women’s Oncology, and Chair of the Department of Women’s Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

While he does bring a corporate bias based on his position at Myriad Genetics Laboratories – and Myriad clearly have a vested interest in selling diagnostic tests – his clinical perspective is worthy of consideration and it’s one that is shared by other GYN oncology thought leaders we have spoken to (see: earlier post, “what Tesaro aren’t telling you about niraparib”).

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The 2016 Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) is fast approaching. It takes place next month from October 7th to 11th and we will be on site covering the meeting for Biotech Strategy Blog. We’re looking forward to a great meeting!

ESMO 2016 CongressIf you are sitting on the fence as to whether you should go to Copenhagen, then hopefully our series of Previews will help you decide.

Be warned that accommodation is in already in short supply and ESMO are now putting people up across the Oresund bridge in Malmo, Sweden.

The Congress App has a lot of useful information and is well worth downloading, if you haven’t done so already.

Last week many of the late breaking abstract (LBA) titles were announced, although there are still some placeholders. While we won’t know the actual late-breaking data until the meeting, the LBA titles offer insights into what will be presented in Copenhagen.

In the second in our ESMO 2016 Preview series, we’re highlighting the lung cancer late breakers that we’re looking forward to hearing, providing some background on why they may be of interest, and a look at how some of subset landscapes may be a-changing in the future.

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September 1st… as the hot summer floats away from London town and cooler autumn days draw in, it’s time to think about the upcoming fall cancer conference season – it’s quite a busy one this year!

In the coming weeks, I will be rolling out our series on the ESMO 2016 Previews (Twitter #ESMO16) and taking a more in-depth look at various topics of interest. The Copenhagen meeting is later than usual and also more compressed, with numerous sessions now held simultaneously. It used to be that you could take a break between key sessions, but not any more – there’s a lot going on this year.

View of Thames BarrierOne of the things that jumped out to me from a preliminary review of this year’s hectic ESMO program is an interesting novel target that had some early preclinical data at AACR, but that sadly got lost in the tsunami of data there.

It is good to have that reminder and be able to return to it in the context of broader data because overcoming barriers to drug resistance with targeted therapies is still an important issue that is worth researching.

You likely won’t see it in many analyst reports or previews, however, although it’s a hidden gem of great interest and well worth exploring in terms of what we know so far. This means that readers will be both prepared and intrigued – don’t be surprised to hear about some BD&L deals in this niche in the future.

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