Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘Natural Killer NK Cell Therapy’

Sometimes research topics that we’ve researched and covered for several years, including interviews with thought leaders, suddenly become ‘hot’ or are seen as the latest shiny silver lures by sceptics when a new bandwagon starts rolling. They don’t always end well, but some do and take off and become embedded in new standards.

Checkpoint blockade and CAR T cell therapies are two such approaches, which we wrote about in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

When I included what was then known as MDX–1106 and MK–3475 in an ASCO 2010 or 2011 preview video, folks scoffed at highlighting phase 1 data in advanced solid tumours with obscure compounds – “too early to tell” apparently. They subsequently went on to become nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and are indisputely multi-billion blockbusters. Now it’s hard to imagine a discussion about cancer immunotherapies without them mentioned as a bedrock therapy to build on.

I mention this story because it’s easy to follow the herd and dismiss early promising developments as ‘too early’ – fortune favours the brave, even if it means that many approaches need to be tested and evaluated along the way before finding the best solution.

Pathway to success

There is no doubt that the path to success in oncology R&D is paved with many challenges and hurdles – it is rarely a straight road.  Some drug classes will inevitably fail and fall by the wayside, others will need tweaking, incorporated into more optimal trial designs or even evaluated with other combination partners. And let’s not forget those twin issues of dosing and scheduling, which are no slouches when it comes to providing tricky or even exasperating hurdles for hitting an optimal therapeutic window, as many early phase PIs will no doubt be all too familiar with.

We currently live in a very T cell centric world despite the fact that they aren’t the most numerous of the various killing machines available to the immune system. They do happen to be extremely potent and highly effective fire power though, much as a machine gun is over, say, a combat knife or Samurai’s sword. That doesn’t mean that knives or other approaches aren’t effective, far from it, they’re just different and can even be more useful in appropriate situations.

Our heads were first turned by the potential for NK cell engagers a couple of years ago at ASH and we’ve keenly followed their progress since then, documenting the challenges and successes as we went.

With the Affimed-Genentech collaboration announced last night, it’s time to consider where we are with this approach and what this all means…

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Cellular immunotherapy with Natural Killer (NK) cells is emerging as a potentially effective treatment option for older patients (more than 60 years of age) with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).

AML remains a disease with high unmet medical need, particular for those patients who relapse and are ineligible for a stem cell transplant (SCT).

There’s considerable buzz around adoptive cellular therapy and, in particular, chimeric antigen receptor modified T cells (CAR T cells). It is important, however, to note that there are other approaches worthy of consideration. See post: Could a Novel Cell Therapy replace CAR T cell therapy?

Cancer immunotherapy targeting NK cells has already shown some early promising results in AML. We await the read out of the EFFIKIR trial data for lirilumab (Innate Pharma/BMS), an anti KIR (killer inhibitory receptor monoclonal antibody. See post: Innate Pharma at an Inflexion Point, an interview with Hervé Brailly.

357-cover-sourceRizwan Romee, Maximilian Rosario, Melissa Berrien-Elliott and colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis (@WUSTLmed) recently published the results of a clinical trial with a novel NK cell therapy: “Cytokine-induced memory-like natural killer cells exhibit enhanced responses against myeloid leukemia.”

The paper was published on 21 September, 2016 in Science Translational Medicine (link).

Melissa Berrien-Elliott, PhD. Photo Credit: Fehniger Laboratory, Washington University

To better understand the trial results and what they tell us about NK cell therapy in AML, BSB spoke with one of the joint first authors, Melissa Berrien-Elliot, PhD (pictured right) and senior author, Todd A Fehniger MD PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine at Washington University.

This post is part of our series on the innate immune system.

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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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