Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘CAR T cells’

A high tide marker stands out on the beach, what stood out at ASGCT20 for you?

As Covid–19 continues to exert its impact on the cancer conference schedule, the good news is that it isn’t a total wrecking ball effect as organisations turn to virtual meetings to enable researchers to share their work.

Some of the events we have ‘attended’ this year have been prerecorded in advance, while others have taken the form of live events. Having listened to both, I can say they have advantages and disadvantages either way.

To me, it doesn’t really matter if you are flexible and appreciate the effort the scientists are making to show their wares.

This week it’s the turn of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT) to be in the spotlight with a truly ‘live’ meeting.

In the latest post, we focus on some key Gems from the Poster Halls…

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The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is to be congratulated on turning their annual in-person meeting into a virtual meeting at short notice.

With over 60,000 registered attendees, the meeting is a success and has set the standard for others to follow this year. While we all miss the opportunity to meet and network in-person, a virtual meeting does democratize access to science for scientists and researchers who can’t afford to travel or attend every year and we hope that live-streaming will continue in 2021 and beyond.

Since the sessions are available to watch for free on demand, we’re not repeating the data but like a postcard are instead focusing on what stood out for us, adding some pertinent commentary or context, as well some of our key take homes from a cancer new product development perspective.

Whether you agree, disagree, or thought differently about the presentations, we’re here to provoke thinking and critical discussion.

In this latest postcard from AACR20, we’re focusing on highlights from the adoptive cell therapy session taking place earlier today.

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CAR T cell therapy for solid tumours is the cancer new product development equivalent of the quest for the “Holy Grail.” It remains one of the cell therapy challenges of the coming decade.

Light inspires and illuminates

In this post we shine the light on one of the world’s leading cell therapy experts who is taking on that challenge.

Most of our posts are what is known in the business as “long-form” and this one is no exception; it’s over 7,000 words long and offers a veritable smorgasbord of insights into new cell therapies for blood cancers and solid tumours, novel targets, as well as future directions, including a company in stealth mode…

Curious to learn more about this important topic on cracking the code and the quest to find solutions?

Then consider supporting independent science journalism by joining an exclusive group of readers around the world in academic medicine and industry who read BSB premium content.

To learn more from our oncology coverage and get a heads up on our latest analysis, commentary, plus an expert interview from a cellular therapy specialist in stealth mode, subscribers can log-in or you can click to gain access to BSB Premium Content.

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Sunrise over Sitges

Sitges – One of the noticeable things about Sitges, a former fishing village south of Barcelona, is the quality of the light. We could imagine it, like St Ives in Cornwall, as being home to artists in times past.

The sunrises and sunsets have been particularly impressive. When it comes to oncology new product development, we’re all chasing the light and the potential of a cure. That’s the promise of cancer immunotherapy.

Here at the 2nd European CAR T cell meeting, jointly organized by EHA and EBMT, we’ve heard about where we’re at with current cell therapies, some of the many challenges that have yet to be overcome and we’ve been offered insights into where some in the field are going.

2020 will be a landmark year for CAR T cell therapy with new regulatory approvals on the horizon, particularly in myeloma, but the journey to make these therapies effective in solid tumours is one where we still need to chase the light.

In this post you can read our notes and commentary on day 2 in Sitges and what caught our attention at the meeting.

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With the continued noise in cancer immunotherapies all too often focused on the now well established checkpoint blockade and CAR-T cell therapies, with bispecifics often seen as the next up and coming area, it is all too easy to forget or perhaps not be aware of plenty of other promising approaches in biotech pipelines.

Who would have guessed a decade ago that any of those three approaches would have ended up as becoming mainstream in the oncology space?

Time for a different perspective on the immunotherapy front?

At ASCO in 2010 I distinctly recall writing enthusiastically about early phase 1 data on ipilimumab, plus BMS–936558 (nivolumab), MK–3475 (pembrolizumab), and MPDL3208A (atezolizumab), while many others were more into eulogising vaccines such Dendreon’s sipuleucel-T (Provenge) and Celldex’s CDX–110, and mainstream outlets explored late stage clinical updates on BRAF inhibition (PLX4032, vemurafenib), targeting ALK (crizotinib), or even Sunesis’s voreloxin (remember that?) – fun times! Many people thought it was crazy to get excited about initial phase 1 data on the immunotherapy antibodies back then and few would have imagined them subsequently garnering a billion dollars a month in revenues back then either.

It’s now time for the horses to change as we continue our look at emerging biotechs with quite different scientific approaches to immunotherapy, which we think are well worth looking at. These are young companies going places with early clinical pipelines and a fresh approach to R&D.

After all, the checkpoint inhibitors mentioned earlier started at the beginning too – look how they turned out, not too shabbily either.

In this latest example, we take a look at a promising biotech’s immunotherapy pipeline through the lens of a CSO’s perspective and chat about the basic immunological underpinings that are driving their scientific innovation… it is well thought out, in my view.

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Mainz, Germany: A grey and gloomy day by the river Rhine has been brightened up by the quality of science on display at the 2019 annual meeting of the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy (CIMT) (Twitter: #CIMT2019).

Dr Nicky McGranahan presenting at CIMT 2019

We were last here in Mainz 18 months ago for the EACR-CIMT-AACR Immuno-Oncology conference.

Cancer immunotherapy remains a work in progress, however.

What’s increasingly becoming more important is understanding the science, in particular finding answers to critical “why” questions that help us to not only understand the biology of cancer, but also why some people respond and others don’t.

In this post, we describe some of the key highlights and have penned some thoughts on some of the oral talks and posters presented today.

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One of the (many) highlights for me at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) was a “Meet the Expert” session presented by Professor George Coukos.

Prof George Coukos AACR 2016

Prof George Coukos AACR 2016

Professor Coukos is Director of Oncology at the University Hospital of Lausanne and Director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Switzerland.

Ovarian cancer is becoming a fascinating battleground for cancer immunotherapy, with multiple challenges that must be overcome before we see improvements in outcomes, especially for women advanced disease.

The interview with Prof Coukos is a follow-on to the one we did on advanced ovarian cancer and checkpoint blockade at ECCO 2015 in Vienna with Dr Nora Disis (Link).

If you missed it, you can still listen to highlights in Episode 7 of the Novel Targets Podcast (Link).

After his AACR presentation, Prof Coukos kindly spoke with BSB and in a wide ranging discussion, highlighted some of the innovative clinical trial strategies he is working on to move the cancer immunotherapy field forward in ovarian cancer.

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Dr Michel Sadelain AACR 2016

Dr Michel Sadelain at AACR 2016

Dr Michel Sadelain, Director of Cell Engineering at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York is a pioneer in the field of adoptive cell therapy.

Without his contribution, it is unlikely CAR T cell therapy would be where it is today.

He’s also President of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT), whose annual meeting is currently underway in Washington DC from May 4 to 7 (Twitter #ASGCT16).

Recently at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Dr Sadelain gave an outstanding presentation on turbo-charged CAR T cells, and shared some of his ideas on how to move the field forward.

In New Orleans, he also kindly spoke to BSB, and discussed how he thinks cell therapy researchers may obtain the “holy grail” of getting CAR T cell therapies to work effectively in solid tumors.

Dr Sadelin is someone who wants to break the immunology rules!

Not surprisingly, Dr Sadelain is optimistic and doesn’t share the view expressed by Dr Steven Rosenberg on CAR T cell therapies being limited to mostly hematologic malignancies when we interviewed him a year ago at last year’s ASGCT meeting.  There’s nothing like a friendly controversy to spice the field up!

If you haven’t already done so, do listen to Dr Rosenberg on Episode 5 of the Novel Targets Podcast (@TargetsPodcast).

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The immuno-oncology space continues to get both interesting and also very crowded with over 20 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies now in development. Originally, the excitement began with the University of Pennsylvania’s dramatic announcement regarding the first two advanced CLL patients they successfully treated, leading to a collaboration with Novartis and spurring a new ‘arms race’ development in this niche.

While most of the CAR T cell therapy data since has largely focused on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and to a lesser extent, non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL), many have been wondering what was happening on the CLL front?  Has hope been abandoned there or will we see a renaissance occur?  It is of particular relevance with the Abbvie/Genentech announcement that venetoclax has positive data in CLL patients who have the Del17p mutation and filing is likely here in this subset soon.  Therapies such as ibrutinib and idelalisib are already approved in refractory CLL and may also have a future role to play here.

Do we need suicide switches for CAR T cell therapies such as Bellicum and Cellectis are developing or not?

Meanwhile, other hematologic malignancies are also being explored, including multiple myeloma. Why would a CD19 CAR work in a disease long considered to be CD19-negative in advanced, refractory disease?

Carl June UPenn

Dr Carl June, U Penn

What about progress with solid tumours? Many commentators and investors have been highly sceptical of the chances of success here following the advent of positive checkpoint data beyond metastatic melanoma and early CAR data in mesothelin cancers.

To answer these questions and also get a flavour for where things are headed with CAR T cell therapies, we recently interviewed one of the leading experts in this field, Dr Carl June (U Penn).

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We have followed the roller coaster development of the Bcl2 inhibitor, venetoclax (ABT–199/GDC–0199), for several years now.  There have been some lowlights along the way, but lately, things have been much rosier for AbbVie and Genentech as a more sensible dosing and patient management approach has been paying off.

Recently at ASCO and ASH, we have seen encouraging new data emerge in leukemia (AML and CLL), lymhomas (NHL), and even multiple myeloma.

New data has now emerged that looks quite interesting in another blood disorder. Today, we took a look at the data and also the potential implications for venetoclax’s development program.

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