Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘Innate Immunity’

We get to chat with many leading oncologists and cancer researchers on Biotech Strategy Blog – it’s truly one of the perks of the job to meet experts and hear them discuss their early research.

Like a tutorial, we have the opportunity to ask questions and improve our own understanding, but where it becomes really interesting is when they talk about promising translational opportunities, because this is what we are about.

How do you translate basic research into oncology new products and figure out where are the viable opportunities?

In this post, we spoke with one of the world’s leading immunologists – someone we’ve never spoken to before – who a few weeks ago spun-out a company to commercialize one of their early research areas and while we were doing the interview told us about another commercial opportunity they had in mind. This was very much “under the radar” and in a relatively earlier stage of commercialization. Both targets have potential for synergy in our view, particularly in combination strategies and cancer immunotherapy regimens.

With one company in stealth mode and the other only incorporated a matter of weeks ago (at time of writing they don’t yet have a website), it’s exciting to see science translation in action.

This is one of the reasons why one of the many tribes that read BSB are those in business development and licensing (BD&L) or investment roles.

In this post we interviewed the delightful Prof. Akiko Iwasaki from Yale. We’ve also put together commentary on the opportunities and the science behind them, as well as some recent anecdotes gleaned from another expert in one of the fields discussed.

If you are part of a BD&L team then do consider purchasing a group or team license. We’d be happy to have our group sales department discuss this further with you.

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Continuing our STING mini series, the third part looks at a company with a next generation agonist that is heading into the clinic soon.

What sort of challenges have the overcome, what can we expect to learn more about? Are they thinking narrowly or broadly?

One of the most exciting times for me in new product development is not when they move from phase 2 to approval, launch, and subsequent commercialisation, but that window between preclinical studies and first-in-man trials. The IND-enabling phase is an intense period with much to get done that can make or break subsequent advanced solid tumour dose finding trials.

Get your various key predictions wrong and you could be looking at a spate of unwanted severe side effects that will rapidly grind your trial to a halt. Sometimes they are a predicted risk at a much higher dose, for example, other times the PK/PD predictions don’t turn out as expected at all (oops). Then there’s scheduling and timing issues to think about on top of dosing and therapeutic window for combination trials.

Despite a lot of research, it’s still a very imperfect science. As one of my mentors used to say, “Better to be lucky than pedantically dotting all the i’s and t’s!”

So imagine a young up and coming IO biotech in that window between preclinical and clinical development – what are they going to do and where do they see themselves fitting in the broader landscape?

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Last week we reported on a paper published in Nature by Bakhoum et al that raised the provocative question, Can STING agonists promote metastasis? (Link to BSB post).

As Dr Bakhoum subsequently tweeted an image from the research made the front page of the print edition of Nature:

In this latest post, we continue the story with a perspective on this research from one of the world’s leading experts on the science behind the STING (stimulator of Interferon genes) pathway.

Glen N. Barber, PhD is Chairman of the Department of Cell Biology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and holds the Eugenia J. Dodson Chair in Cancer Research.

He has published extensively on the biology of STING and targeting the innate immune system.

In science we often hear that the truth is what the data tells us, but what does the data by Bakhoum et al really tell us and what conclusions can we draw from it that will guide future translational and clinical research?

Dr Barber kindly spoke to BSB at his office in the Papanicolaou Cancer Research building at the UM medical school and offers a perspective that reignites the controversy over STING and Metastasis.

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While in Marseille for the scientific meeting to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy (CIML), I had the pleasure to interview Hervé Brailly PhD, the CEO of Innate Pharma, a leading biotech company in the Marseille Immunopôle.


Innate Pharma (@InnatePharma) was founded in 1999 by six immunologists: Hervé Brailly, Eric Vivier, Marc Bonneville, Alessandro Moretta, Jean-Jacques Fournié and Francois Romagné.

Yesterday’s blog post on “Why Target the Innate Immune System? An interview with Eric Vivier” sets the scene for today’s post.

Innate Pharma, as the name suggests, has pioneered targeting the innate immune system. The company has leveraged the research undertaken at CIML by Professor Vivier and others in the field of innate immunity.

Innate is leading the way in immuno-oncology by targeting checkpoint receptors on natural killer (NK) cells. In 2011 Innate signed a licensing deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb for the development and potential commercialization of lirilumab.

In a recent financial report (link to Sept 8 press release) the company announced that several clinical trials would read-out in the forthcoming months.

Without disclosing any material non-public information, Dr Brailly kindly spoke with BSB and talked about his vision for Innate, what data readouts we are expecting, and the inflexion point the company is now at.

This post was updated on Feb 6, 2017 with the announcement that the EFFIKIR AML trial failed to meet it’s primary endpoint.

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Eric Vivier, DVM PhD (@EricVivier1) is a leading French immunologist whose research has focused on understanding the innate immune system, and in particular, the role natural killer (NK) cells and innate lymphoid cells (ILC) play.


He is Director of the Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy (CIML) and a Professor of Immunology at Aix-Marseille University.

In addition to his academic work, he also co-founded the biotech company Innate Pharma back in 1999. Through the company, he is actively involved in the translation of basic research into new cancer immunotherapy treatments.

New clinical data is eagerly expected for one of these, a first-in-class monoclonal antibody against KIR (lirilumab). It is in phase 2 clinical trials with Innate Pharma and Bristol Myers Squibb.

At the recent scientific meeting to celebrate 40 years of CIML (#CIML40), Professor Vivier kindly spoke to BSB about his research into innate immunity and the Marseille Immunopôle, for which he is also a co-founder.

It is an immunology cluster that brings together academic/clinical research with innovative biotech companies looking to bring new drugs and diagnostics to market.

This is the second post in our mini-series from the Marseille Immunopôle and CIML40. It also sets the scene for forthcoming posts on targeting the innate immune system, something you can expect to hear a lot more about in cancer immunotherapy.

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After yesterdays post on Gems from the Poster Halls at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Philadelphia where we took a look at new developments in targeted therapies, several subscribers asked for a repeat, but with a focus on immuno-oncology.

AACR 2015 Checkpoint Inhibitor PostersThere are a number of elements that many people are interested in, especially given the Merck and BMS clinical data at AACR, where we clearly saw that:

  • Anti-PD–1 therapy with pembrolizumab is superior to anti-CTLA4 with ipilimumab in metastatic melanoma (expect nivolumab to show the same thing at ASCO)
  • Combined PD–1 plus CTLA4 blockade (with nivolumab plus ipilimumab) was superior to anti-CTLA4 alone, but with higher grade 3/4 toxicities, also in advanced melanoma

Sadly though, we still see that 70-80% of patients don’t respond to these therapies.

  • How can we improve on that?
  • What happens when we explore other factors, tumour types and different aspects of the immune system?
  • What can we learn about novel sequencing or combination approaches?
  • Which ones look interesting?

Endless questions can be asked – to which we still have too few answers – although there were some encouraging signs and hints of possibilities at AACR.

The 2015 AACR program was particularly challenging this year with lots of really good symposia and general sessions, making it tough to whizz round the vast poster hall spread out around the exhibits as well.  To give you an idea of scale, it was pretty typical to cover 17K to 18K steps a day, approximately 7 to 8 miles.  For many people, fitting in a quick lunch and the posters was certainly a challenging feat, depending where you were in the complex.  With a morning session ending at 12.30pm, the afternoon session starting at 1pm and 2,000 steps between the Grand and Terrace Ballrooms, you sure had to get your skates on, Beep Beep!

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National Harbor MarylandThe Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) annual meeting promises to be a most interesting one, if the first day is anything to go by. It’s being held this week at National Harbor, Maryland on the banks of the Potomac River just south of Washington DC.

As the meeting started with some intensive workshops yesterday, the American Society for Hematology (ASH) annual meeting abstracts were released at 9am, giving up a choice between writing up SITC in situ or switching gears and analysing the initial hematology abstracts. In the interests of sanity, we have decided to focus on SITC for the next week, then move onto the AACR-NCI-EORTC conference, before reviewing the ASH data in detailed previews.

SITC is mostly a translational science meeting with a little bit of relevant clinical data through in here and there. It’s also not for the faint hearted, especially given the sheer intensity and pace of some of the talks – keeping up with pen and paper to hastily scribble notes is surprisingly quite hard!

It was an honour to attend as one of the few members of the media here. The excitement is palpable, with speakers reminding us of how only a few years ago, few people attended immunotherapy sessions at ASCO. SITC is rapidly becoming a major meeting with a record-breaking 1500 expected for the first time! It is the immuno-oncology meeting to attend for those interested in understanding the emerging trends, landscape and direction that research is taking us.

Yesterday SITC fielded two workshops with impressive line-ups from the immuno-oncology space that included Drs Carl June, James Allison, Tom Gajewski, Susan Topalian, Stephen Hodi and Mario Sznol, to name a few. The workshops focused on different topics:

  • A basic one on understanding the immune system
  • A more advanced one on combination strategies in immunotherapy

Rather than summarise all the talks from both sessions that ran a full day each, we’ve decided to focus on some themes, ideas and concepts that catch our attention each day. Here’s the first of our daily reviews from the SITC 2014 annual meeting. Thanks to all our subscribers whose support enabled us to attend this meeting for the first time.

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