With so much data to cover recently, we haven’t have time for a perennial favourite, the monthly mailbag to answer BSB reader Q&A on hot oncology topics.
October has brought out quite a lot of controversy to consider, most of it happening in the last week!
Here, we consider questions on Immune Design’s phase 3 trial with their NY-ESO-1 vaccine, CMB305, which attracted both a lot of market attention and also questions from readers.
We also review a bunch of questions relating to 1L NSCLC and the upcoming readouts. This niche is probably potentially one of the most competitive spaces in oncology R&D at present and readers seem almost insatiable for information on this topic.
It is quite a turnaround considering the last decade of numerous failed trials or even non-inferiority studies that were being conducted.
Like many readers, I can well remember sitting in freezing cold, half empty halls wondering if the latest chemo or targeted therapy doublet was going to offer a mere 2-3 months improvement in PFS and no OS benefit or not. It was that binary and also depressing.
With the possibilities offered by immune checkpoint blockade, in a short space of time 1L NSCLC has gone from graveyard to uber intense with several companies vying to demonstrate improvements in overall survival by 6 months or more.
There’s a lot more to come here and not all of the lung trials will be positive – that’s expecting too much against the game of chance. Here, we look at numerous factors that could make a difference, both positive and negative.
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Periodically, we post an analysis and look at a particular landscape and the leading competitors within. One area of rather intense interest that we have been following is the progress (or march might be more precise) of checkpoint blockade in previously untreated metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (1L NSCLC).
Our extensive reviews and discussions in this area have included a look at:
In addition, I last posted my recent predictions on this space in July this year and already quite a bit has happened since then!
With a bunch of other phase 3 trial readouts coming up over the next couple of months, it’s now time for another update on what to watch out for, what to expect and why some studies can be handicapped differently.
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Greetings from continental Europe!
ESMO Madrid Conference Center
We have a LOT of data to discuss today from ESMO and have also included an interview with one expert that was conducted under embargo on an important topic.
Of course, the usual in-depth analyses on new targets and early compounds in development will duly follow in the post-meeting output, but there’s plenty of practice changing data to consider and also some results that may trigger alternative thinking from where we are now.
We also received questions from BSB readers on certain trials and some of these are answered in today’s update on the road…
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It really doesn’t feel like a year since we were at ESMO in Copenhagen, in what was probably the most exciting meeting of the year in many ways.
With the ASCO abstract deadline being in Jan/Feb, ESMO offers a great opportunity for companies to have another major slot in the calendar to present ground breaking data. In some ways, having positive data at a European meeting can actually amplify positive studies that might otherwise get lost in the noise at ASCO, which is almost becoming too big.
So what’s in store now that the meeting is upon us?
There are some large and small trials with important data on the first two days that bear thinking about and further discussion.
Here’s our take on the first batch of readouts, including some surprises…
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There has been considerable focus on the impact of cancer immunotherapy and checkpoint blockade in particular in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) of late, with approval of several agents in the 1L and 2L metastatic setting, as well as positive results reported in stage 3 unresectable disease earlier this year.
To date, the approvals have focused on monotherapies in second-line (nivolumab, pembrolizumab and atezolizumab) allcomers, as well as in 1L in two cases i.e. for people who are PD-L1 High expressers (≥ 50%) for pembrolizumab or allcomers in combination with chemotherapy (pembrolizumab).
Today as part of their 2Q earnings call details, AstraZeneca ($AZN) announced that the MYSTIC trial exploring the combination of the anti-PD-L1 antibody, durvalumab (Imfinzi), plus anti-CTLA–4 antibody, tremelimumab, unfortunately missed the interim endpoint of progression-free survival (PFS).
This is the first dual IO-IO combo readout in this setting and while disappointing, the results aren’t entirely surprising, as regular readers will no doubt realise.
We are now awaiting several other trial readouts in 1L NSCLC, including Merck’s phase 3 confirmatory trial for pembrolizumab plus chemo and Genentech/Roche’s IMpower150 trial, which explores atezolizumab in combination with chemotherapy, with and without the anti-VEGF inhibitor, bevacizumab (Avastin).
For historical reference, we originally wrote up our perspectives on the 1L NSCLC landscape in January this year then followed that up with a provocative post outlining out predictions on what to expect earlier this month, including the projected miss in PFS for AstraZeneca’s IO combo.
So what does this latest data mean for AZN?
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Until recently, we followed the race to market in EGFR T790M lung cancer with Clovis’s rociletinib and AstraZeneca’s osimertinib (Tagrisso). In phase 2, AstraZeneca caused quite a stir when they came from behind and leapfrogged their biotech rival with a large global randomized controlled trial seemingly out of nowhere. They never looked back.
Can they do the same thing with durvalumab (Imfinzi), one of their IO therapies that targets PD-L1?
If there’s one thing that many astute observers of the IO space have learned this week it’s that irrational exuberance and the hopeful sentiment that ‘everything’ will just tweak the immune system and work positively no matter what has thankfully come to an end.
We’ve seen several highs and lows already with Merck’s pembrolizumab gaining accelerated approval in 1L NSCLC in allcomers when combined with chemotherapy and AstraZeneca reporting positive phase 3 data for durvalumab in unresectable (stage 3) NSCLC based on meeting the study endpoint (PFS).
There is much to be learned because the nivolumab disaster in 1L NSCLC last year was not a singular aberration given that durvalumab has seen some missteps in the past and even atezolizumab had some unexpected news with urothelial cancer this week (Check out our insights), as compared to chemo in the second line setting. Just like mutations, there will be many more to come, perhaps even some additional ones before the year is out.
What about today’s news from AstraZeneca in unresectable NSCLC?
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The recent PARP inhibitor data has stirred up a lot of interest amongst BSB subscribers (See post: PARP! PARP! what’s hot in ovarian cancer at SGO and AACR?).
So, rather than do another AACR 2017 Preview (more coming next week!), it seemed timely to take a look at some of the interesting questions we’ve received from subscribers.
Five questions have been selected for answer in this week’s BSB reader Q&A. We don’t award prizes if your question is selected, nor do we name who asked the question, but everyone benefits when interesting questions are asked and we can all learn from each other.
As author Thomas Berger aptly said:
“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”
What differentiates many world class cancer researchers is frequently the scientific questions they ask in their work. The same holds true if you are a C level executive or a journalist. The quality of the answer you obtain is often dependent on the quality of the question you ask.
We hope that being better informed about the issues and topics we write about on BSB will enable subscribers to ask better questions, and in the process make better decisions.
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In the first of our 2017 AACR annual meeting previews, we are taking a look at a particular theme that we expect to hear much more about over the coming months.
Washington DC cherry blossoms
In order to make something better than what it is, we first need to step back and understand the various factors that underpin it. To do otherwise is akin to the proverbial throwing of mud at the wall and hoping something sticks.
Trying things out just because they seem like a good idea or that’s all you have in your pipeline doesn’t really inspire the greatest of confidence in a clinical trial’s success.
This is also where several factors including tumour biology, cancer genomics, biomarkers, and acquired resistance can intersect to produce some intriguing results.
Please note that our Conference Preview series are never random. When looking at the abstracts as a whole, we try to organise them around a particular scientific theme or a tumour type. The idea here is that it makes it much easier for our readers to see and grasp emerging concepts and trends. It’s also a deeper dive into the whys; things happen for a reason – why is that? What can we learn from the process?
These are also not random selections from say, publicly traded or private companies, big or small caps.
It does take more time to roll thematic articles out, but the advantage is that over the course of the next two weeks readers will be better equipped to get a grip on the meeting ahead of the event.
Indeed, a couple of subscribers even told us last year they learned more from our in-depth previews than they did from the meeting itself because it’s easy to miss the important things or become ‘bigly overwhelmed’ as one bio fund manager explained to me.
Strategically, we’ve taken one specific theme today and explored what we can expect based on what we have learned to date, and looked at how that will potentially impact a few things going forward.
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The huge pile of interesting scientific papers yet to be read seems to breed overnight and one constantly feels like they’re 2,000 articles behind, even with spending Friday mornings attacking them with gusto.
This was as true in my PhD days as it is now. For a scientist, these represent a lifeline and an important necessity, rather than a luxury.
In the last journal club posting we covered some hot topics in cancer immunotherapy, so this one covers a very different topic, namely targeted therapies.
It’s a good time for a new journal club post, where we tackle some of the recent published literature in oncology and highlight some important new findings that could have an impact on cancer research and development.
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Challenges and Opportunities in the evolving 1L NSCLC Landscape
Rolling English Landscape in Devon
Following a series of events – from BMS’s failure with nivolumab monotherapy… to Merck’s sudden announcement to file their combination of pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy… to AstraZeneca’s delay of the MYSTIC trial exploring durvalumab plus tremelimumab this week, there’s never a dull moment in lung cancer!
So can we expect some more surprises in store in 1L NSCLC?
I say yes we can!
The big questions are what are they and what impact will they have?
2017 is ironically, the year of the Rooster – so who’s going to crow loudly at dawn and who is going to get strangled in the process?
In the world of cancer research it is unlikely that everything wins or is successful, so figuring out the early signs and hints is an important part of the process.
One thing I learned early in this business is that it pays for companies to be humble, flexible and open minded rather than arrogant and dogmatic in their thinking… otherwise you can easily be blindsided.
There were a few examples of that in oncology R&D last year, a repeat could very well follow in 2017 for the unwary.
Here we look at 1L NSCLC in the context of multiple phase 3 trials that are slated to read out… from AstraZeneca, BMS, Merck and Genentech.
If you want to know what the potential impact of these events are on the landscape, including what we can expect from MYSTIC, CheckMate-227 and several others, then this is the post for you because some surprises are likely in store.
We cut through the chase to explain the what and the why in clear simple language.
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