Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘Innate Pharma’

Making waves with new directions – there are many possible ways to go when considering targeting the adenosine axis

As we segue between our AACR and ASCO coverage, one topic that straddles both virtual meetings is targeting the adenosine axis.  At AACR19, this pathway was very much front and square with some intriguing and controversial data presented, which caught many people by surprise.

Since then, several companies have opened new trials, others are completing enrollment and waiting for their data to readout before deciding upon next steps.

It’s a good time to take a look at what’s new in this niche and also see things differently through the lens of one company involved in the field.  Yes, it’s time to share our latest expert interview from not one, but two, c-suite executives.

What are their perspectives (they are different), where do they see the field going and why?

In part one of the discussion we focus exclusively on adenosine targeting and how they see themselves differentiated from the crowd… it certainly makes for interesting reading!

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Corvus Pharmaceuticals LogoA biotech company we’ve been following for several years – on what has turned out to be a rollercoaster ride so far – is Corvus Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CRVS).

They were pioneers in targeting the adenosine pathway with their adenosine A2A receptor antagonist,  CPI–444, now known as ciforadenant.

So what’s new at Corvus? It turns out quite a lot.

At ASCO 2019, BSB caught up with Richard A Miller MD, Co-Founder, President, and CEO of Corvus Pharmaceuticals to learn more about their progress and importantly, where they’re headed.

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The AACR19 ‘mosh pit’ where gems abound

It’s been a while since we looked at the adenosine pathway, where a fog of immunosuppression is thought to cloak the ability of the immune system to induce antitumour immunity.

When we first wrote about the A2A receptor-CD73-CD39 pathway in 2016 there really weren’t very many players in this niche.  Since then the field has expanded quite considerably and there are now more companies and molecules to consider.

As we straddle AACR and ASCO, it’s a great time to offer an update and look at what we learned…

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Every year for our annual AACR Preview coverage we like to mix things up and explore what’s happening with different targets, pathways, and even companies.

In this latest post for #AACR18, we take a look at a company that has historically been involved in R&D associated with the innate immune system. As new molecules have evolved against different targets, researchers have begun to realise that we can actually target both the innate and adaptive immune systems together rather than one or the other.

We have covered several clinical developments from Innate Pharma on lirilimumab, but they are actually more than a one compound biotech and have a growing pipeline of antibodies against several novel targets, some of which are unique to the company.

This isn’t just about the science behind the pipeline as we also explore facets of corporate strategy and where the company is headed in the near to medium term future.  While in London earlier this month, we caught up with Dr Mondher Mahjoubi (CEO) and Prof Eric Vivier (CSO) for a candid and detailed fire side chat.

There was plenty to discuss and some interesting new developments to highlight…

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As we move from monotherapies to combinations in the immuno-oncology space, we start to see some intriguing ideas being explored from additional checkpoints to vaccines to neoantigens to immune agonists to oncolytic viruses. There are numerous ways to evaluate how to boost or jumpstart more immune cells upfront in the hope of seeing better efficacy.

One way to do this is to better understand the tumour microenvironment.

Wall of people at ASH16 in San Diego

If we know what’s wrong under the hood, we might be better able to make the immune system get going… more gas, faulty starter motor, dead battery, loose wire, broken fan belt? All these things and more might be a problem so you can see that diagnosing the issue up from from basic and translational work might be instructive for clinical trials.

If you don’t know what problem you’re trying to fix or repair then you might as well be throwing mud at the wall. Just as we don’t expect a car mechanic to suggest changing the battery or starter-motor without first diagnosing the issue, so understanding the tumour microenvironment in each different cancer or disease might also be a helpful strategy.

At the recent American Society of Hematology annual meeting (#ASH16), there was a fascinating sceintifc workshop that focused on this very concept – what’s going on under the hood and how do we go about fixing it?

Here we explore these ideas via an interview with a thought leader and specialist in the field. What he had to say was very interesting and candid indeed.

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Head and Neck cancer – or to be more precise – squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) has joined the checkpoint inhibitor club with two FDA approvals this year. National Harbor Maryland

Firstly, we saw the accelerated approval of pembrolizumab (Merck) based on objective response rate on August 5, 2016 for patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (SCCHN) that has continued to progress despite standard-of-care treatment with chemotherapy.

It’s a dismal disease with a generally poor prognosis in advanced patients once initial therapy fails.

While some patients do benefit with anti-PD–1 checkpoint therapy, the overall response rate in the KEYNOTE–012 trial of 174 patients was pretty low, i.e. 16%. In other words, the majority of patients do not respond or receive any clinical benefit.

Secondly, last week on November 10 nivolumab (BMS) was approved by the FDA based on the phase 3 CheckMate–141 data presented at ASCO earlier this year. The data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with the FDA approval.

There were no statistically significant differences between the two arms for median PFS (2.0 months with nivolumab versus 2.3 months with standard therapy, HR for disease progression or death, 0.89; P=0.32) or ORR (13.3% vs. 5.8%) for nivolumab versus investigator’s choice, respectively. There was, however, a clear benefit in favour of nivolumab in median overall survival (7.5 months in the nivolumab group versus 5.1 months in the control group; HR 0.70; P=0.01).

This effect on patient outcome is a classic pattern for cancer immunotherapy with checkpoint blockade. Response rate and PFS are measurements that are very relevant to chemotherapy, but they are not as relevant to cancer immunotherapies where what is impacted more noticeably is overall survival and the long tail of the curve.

With two approved anti-PD–1 monotherapies in SCCHN, the next challenge has now become how can we improve on monotherapy by boosting the number of PRs to CRs potentially improving long term outcomes and/or turn non-responders into responders? This is the stage we are at in many tumour types now.

Combination approaches are believed to be the way forward, which is why we anticipated with great interest the lirilumab plus nivolumab head & neck combination data presented this past weekend at the 2016 Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) meeting at National Harbor, MD. The presentation is available for download on the Innate Pharma website. The data raises numerous questions and scenarios that can be considered…

  • Are the data exciting, encouraging or disappointing?
  • Are the results enough to give confidence if a phase 3 trial with the combination were to follow?
To address these questions and other critical issues – including red and green flags – we took a deep dive into the data in the context of scientific facts and explored the landscape carefully.

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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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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.

dr-herve-brailly-innate-pharma-ceo

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.

prof-eric-vivier

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 looking at one important poster yesterday on multiple myeloma, it’s time to explore other equally interesting targets in other tumour types.

Some years reflect the inertia that hit oncology R&D with a lot of old data rehashed or they can be flooded with many me-too compounds.  Not this year, there’s a lot to talk about and review… so much so that we may well have enough for three rounds of Gems from the Poster Halls, time permitting as ASCO is fast approaching!

Without much further ado, for round 1 we have explored eight posters spanning four companies with a variety of different targets including chemotherapy, targeted therapies and immunotherapies.  I will say though, that the lines are being blurred as all of these modalities can impact the immune system, sometimes in unexpected ways.

What’s in store for today?  A focus on biotech companies doing intriguing cancer research.

Companies mentioned: Infinity, Innate, Incyte, Agenus

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