Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘Checkpoint Blockade’

Berlin Wall Museum

Preserved section of the Berlin Wall

I have a personal interest in Alzheimers Disease, my mother Audrey died from it three years ago back in 2014.

Since then, I’ve watched with fascination and excitement the progress made in using the body’s own immune system against cancer. There’s still a long way to go, but a revolution in treating cancer is underway, as we’ve been documenting on this blog and the Novel Targets Podcast.

In recent years in the United States we’ve also seen grand initiatives targeting cancer such as Vice President Biden’s Moonshot, as well as large philanthropic support e.g. the creation of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

Sadly, we’ve not seen the same level of interest in targeting dementia or funding research into new treatments for Alzheimers disease.

In the United States, the media doesn’t talk much about Alzheimers (compared to cancer), unlike for example, in the United Kingdom where any promising data is heralded with headlines that frequently deliver “hype over hope.”

Alzheimers is an insidious disease that removes the ability of the person to advocate and care for themselves, instead placing the burden on families and caregivers, often for extended periods of time. Ultimately many people end up in supported living or nursing homes.

As we debate healthcare insurance in the United States, who is going to pay for the cost of dementia care as the population grows older? Caring for dementia is arguably the greatest public health challenge that the western world faces.

Which is why I was excited to talk with a researcher who is thinking outside of the box and leading the way in how we could use our immune system against Alzheimers.

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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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One of my favourite pastimes at cancer conferences is discussions with up and coming young researchers about their current experiments and what they learn from them.

The poster hall rugby scrum at #ASCO17

In the spotlight today is one of the gems from the poster halls at ASCO this month…

Here we explore how liver mets, which is a common site of metastases, can influence the response of cancer immunotherapy.

The findings from this research highlight some intriguing biology as well as offer some hints about where to go next.

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#ASCO17 Poster Hall aka rugby scrum

There were a lot of gems in the poster halls at ASCO this year, a fact that is partly a reflection of the wealth of new data with various IO combos and also the early cutoff date.

Now I jested before the meeting that these sessions were akin to a rugby scrum and lo and behold (see photo right) they were even more jam packed than usual!

If you wanted to best the eager and energetic Wall St analysts then remembering your ruck and maul skills were not a bad thing to have in muscle memory… It was not something I attempted in the Go-Cart this year for fear of bowling people over in the stampede to nab the QR codes 🙂

Much of the previous readouts have been with monotherapy in immunogenic tumours such as melanoma, lung, bladder, gastric, renal cell carcinoma etc. Objective response rates in metastatic triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) have generally been under 20%, however.

Lately, the focus has turned to the deepening of responses in these tumours with various combination approaches and also moving earlier in the disease setting, where immunotherapies might be expected to be more effective with a lower tumour burden.

While in Chicago, we spoke to a breast cancer specialist about where IO combos are going and his thoughts on future opportunities in our third post in a series on various aspects of new developments in breast cancer.

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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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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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MLK Memorial, Washington DC

We’re continuing our previews of the forthcoming 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Washington DC with a look at an emerging pathway that may impact checkpoint therapy.

It’s an exciting time in cancer immunotherapy, although only a small minority of people have remarkable long-term durable responses and the reality is that most patients, even if they respond initially, end up relapsing at some point.

There’s still a lot to learn about cancer immunotherapy – we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

At AACR17 we can expect to see insights on the direction the field is going. In this post we take a look at an emerging pathway, and some of the key presentations and posters that you should see if you are in DC for the meeting.

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Today for the second AACR 2017 Preview, I wanted to switch things up a bit and turn from looking at an important trend to a specific tumour type. One of the reasons for this is that we received questions from readers about recent data presented at medical meetings in this sphere.

It’s also not something that we have covered extensively here on BSB, so looking at something in a different light is often a good idea since insights and intelligence can sometimes jump out afresh.

Given that there are also some important clinical trial results emerging here, this is something we can expect to return to in Washington DC when the data is presented at AACR next month. What can we learn ahead of the event though? It turns out the answer is quite a lot.

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We’re continuing our coverage of highlights from the inaugural ASCO-SITC Clinical Immuno-Oncology Symposium with a look at a novel way to potentially improve the efficacy of checkpoint inhibitors.

It’s not something we’ve previously written about, nor is it included in the recent Chen & Mellman Nature paper that discusses “factors that influence the cancer-immune set point.

So there’s a good chance it may not be on your radar either.

Given the commercial stakes at play in improving checkpoint efficacy, combination strategies that could have an impact are worth thinking about when it comes to designing clinical trials.

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Two of the most intriguing developments in cancer research over the last 5 years have been checkpoint blockade and CAR T cell therapies. There’s no doubt that they work – in some patients – or that toxicities can be challenging to manage at times, but what has been very interesting to me has been physician reactions to the rise of immunotherapies.

There has been much noise about biomarkers, including whether they work or not in this niche, as well as how do we go about selecting patients for therapies and combinations?

Ultimately, immunotherapies will be no different from targeted therapies in that we need to better understand the underlying biology in order to move forward beyond the low hanging fruit and figure out how we can best select appropriate therapy for each individual based on their particular characteristics.

The worry that many researchers have is that we could end up making the same mistakes with immunotherapies as targeted therapies, i.e. treat them in a broad fashion akin to throwing mud at the wall. Indeed, some companies are already doing this, much to the consternation of the research community.

So how do we go about doing things better and thinking more strategically about what needs to be done?

Up next is the first in a two-part interview series with a global thought leader who is a scientist-clinician with expertise in both immunology and oncogenic pathways. What does he have to say about where we are now and importantly, what does the future hold?

This is the penultimate article in our coverage from the Triple meeting in Munich, held in November 2016.

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