Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘dan chen’

It’s time to launch a new mini-series where we explore some of the issues and concepts surronding a given topic and then look at how they are being tackled through the lens of different biotech companies.

Storm clouds gathering over immune agonists and bispecific antibodies?

The latest topic is bispecific antibodies, a development we have often covered since 2014/2015 here on BSB. Much has happened in that time and many compounds have fallen by the wayside. In my view, this is a normal part of oncology R&D attrition – it’s not that we encounter problems, it’s how companies handle the road blocks along the way that matters.

What can we learn from the first two waves of immuno-oncology that can be applied to bispecific developments?  There is no doubt that while some have been successful in making it to market, quite a few have encountered various challenges along the journey.  Why is that and how to we address the emerging or thorny issues?

Change is inevitable in the cancer immunotherapy revolution, we can hardly expect to get things right first time, every time. Some approaches will work well, some won’t, others will need tweaking and turn out to be useful tools down the road in future iterations. Learning from past experience to make the next wave better and more effective is an important part of this process rather than putting everything in one basket and then abandoning it if it doesn’t work first time.

One man who has experienced the first and second waves and is ideally placed to candidly discuss the learnings and future changes needed is Dr Dan Chen. He was global head of cancer immunotherapy while at Genentech/Roche and is now spearheading clinical development at IGM Biosciences, a biotech focused on next generation antibodies and bispecifics.

In order to think about what’s needed in the future rather than rush headlong into a different modality, we first have to take stock and then reflect on the learnings of the past clinical trial experiences in order to figure out how to fix them…

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One of the frequently cited conceptual frameworks in Cancer Immunotherapy is the Cancer Immunity Cycle developed by Drs Dan Chen and Ira Mellman from Genentech.

Ira Mellman Dan Chen Authors of Cancer Immunity Cycle

Ira Mellman and Dan Chen

As we heard Dan and Ira tell us on the Novel Targets Podcast recorded last year at #AACR16, the cancer immunity cycle doesn’t include all the elements that we now know impact the immune system and whether someone will have an immune response. The microbiome is one example that readily comes to mind.

To address this, Chen and Mellman have now published the next installment in the series in Nature:

“Elements of Cancer Immunity and the cancer-immune setpoint.”

The review paper published last month incorporates the latest research into a different framework that looks at the factors that influence what they call the ‘cancer-immune setpoint.’

Anyone involved with cancer immunotherapy knows how fast moving and dynamic the field is, something they draw attention to:

“The pace of cancer immunotherapy clinical studies is such that they have outstripped our progress in understanding the underlying science. However, this situation has created the opportunity to combine emerging scientific and clinical insights in a synergistic fashion that… will also provide guidance for the identification of new targets… and the crafting of a framework for making decisions on a personalized basis.”

Conceptual frameworks such as those proposed by Chen and Mellman will be of increasing importance as we try to make sense of the tsunami of cancer immunotherapy clinical trial data, including combinations, that is coming our way over the next 18 months.

During my recent visit to San Francisco for ASCO GI, I had the great pleasure to catch up with Daniel S. Chen, MD PhD, (Global Head of Cancer Immunotherapy Development, Genentech/Roche) and talk about his latest thoughts on how we should think about cancer immunotherapy.

In writing these review papers he told me:

“We look at this as an opportunity to really think about the field, and try to conceptualize what is happening.”

We also discussed their collaboration with Kite Pharma, something of relevance to conferences this week as we head off to BMT Tandem and the ASCO-SITC meeting.

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