Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is a tough disease to deal with given that it is portends poor clinical outcomes, aggressive tumour biology, and early metastatic spread. Not surprisingly, we have seen very little improvements in terms of clinical outcomes with anti-cancer therapeutics. Surgery (for early stage disease) and intense chemotherapy (for metastatic disease) remain the bedrocks of treatment to this day.
From an immunotherapy perspective, there are also additional barriers and hurdles to overcome including, for example, lack of high mutational load, a complex inhibitory tumour microenvironment, and even a physical barrier in the form of the stromal layer.
Not surprisingly, all of these factors combine to make companies reluctant to rush into clinical trials with immune checkpoint blockade, accepting that we really need to understand the underlying tumour biology better before attempting such an endeavour.
At a recent cancer conference we heard an uplifting talk from a research group who are attempting to tackle this issue and offer some pointers on where there may be some near-term opportunities that are worthy of discussion.
Before we can even consider what delivery system or adjuvant to use, we first have to do the scientific investigations into what’s special about exceptional responders and characterize those.
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Mainz – At the recent CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR international cancer immunotherapy conference in Germany, one of the underlying themes of the conference that attracted considerable attention from speakers and poster presenters was neoantigens, and how to generate cancer vaccines directed against them.
One of the European leaders in the field is Professor George Coukos who is Director of the Department of Oncology at the University of Lausanne Hospital and Director of the Lausanne branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.
Lausanne is an exciting place for innovative translational oncology work with the Swiss Cancer Center, that Coukos also directs, creating synergy between partner institutions co-located in the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV).
We last spoke to Prof Coukos 18 months ago and much has happened since then. In Mainz, he kindly agreed to speak to BSB again and provide an update on progress.
This time we talked about the cancer vaccine research that he and collaborators such as Dr Lana Kandalaft are pioneering in Lausanne, and how this could best be applied in ovarian cancer. It was exciting to hear him discuss his vision and some of the ambitious goals he hopes will be possible within the field.
Here’s a short excerpt from the interview – he has an interesting story to tell:
This expert interview is part 5 of our onging mini-series on the Future of Cancer Vaccines.
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Dr Ira Mellman is a leading cancer researcher, familiar to many in cancer immunotherapy for his work on the Cancer-Immunity Cycle and Cancer-Immune Set-Point with Dr Dan Chen.
Prior to joining Genentech, he spent 20 years as a faculty member at Yale, publishing extensive research on dendritic cells.
River Rhine, Mainz
Last year, Genentech announced a strategic collaboration with Mainz based BioNTech in Germany to develop and manufacture personalized mRNA based cancer vaccines.
At the recent CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR cancer international cancer immunotherapy conference in Mainz, Dr Mellman kindly spoke to BSB about the underlying biology/immunology, the rationale behind the BioNTech collaboration, and his vision on where he sees the potential for therapeutic cancer vaccines going forward.
This is the second post in our series on the Future of Cancer Vaccines.
Here’s a snippet of the interview with Dr Mellman to get you warmed up…
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One of the leaders in the field of neoantigen based cancer vaccine research is Dr Cathy Wu. She’s a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a scientific co-founder of Neon Therapeutics.
Personalised cancer vaccines are showing exciting promise, and are at the vanguard of what many think of as a renaissance in the field, one that is now attracting the interest of many companies and researchers.
We posted on Neon Therapeutics approach and progress at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference in January, followed by an update on the clinical data from Dr Wu at AACR.
Much has happened since then, however, so it’s a timely juncture to continue the story.
At the recent CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR international cancer immunotherapy conference in Mainz, Dr Wu kindly spoke to BSB about her research, where it’s at, progress to date, and importantly, where things are heading.
This is the first part in our latest mini-series on the future of cancer vaccines.
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La Tour Eiffel par nuit
Paris, France: It’s the dog days of summer and my reading stack of interesting science and cancer research papers is particularly high at the moment despite reading voraciously over the last few weeks…
So much excellent research keeps on piling up as fast as one can get through it.
It’s beginning to feel like Ravel’s Bolero…
Still, there’s one particular batch of important papers that draws together some interesting findings in an area we have been following for a little while now and these data most certainly advance the field in more ways than one.
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Gritstone Oncology hit the ground running with a $102M Series A financing round back in October 2015. Any company that raises that amount of initial funding is on the radar as a company to watch, especially one in the cancer immunotherapy space.
Since the AACR meeting in DC, Gritstone have also hired Genentech’s Dr Raphael Rousseau as CMO (Link) and appear to be an exciting young company going places.
As attention on neoantigens increases, what is Gritstone’s strategy and where could they fit into the cancer immunotherapy landcaspe?
At AACR17 in DC last month, Dr Andrew Allen, President and CEO of Gritstone Oncology kindly spoke to BSB about his vision for the company.
This post is part of expert interview series (Link) and also forms part of our ongoing series on neonatigen based immuno-oncology.
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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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Neon Therapeutics is based in Cambridge, MA
One of the much anticipated cancer immunotherapy presentations at the 2017 JP Morgan Healthcare conference was by Neon Therapeutics CEO Hugh O’Dowd.
As readers know we’re riding the Immuno-Oncology wave on Biotech Strategy Blog, and one of the exciting new topics to emerge is whether we can target neoantigens to create personalized immunotherapy.
Our mini-series last year on neonatigens received a lot of attention. It included a primer and three interviews. We were very much of the opinion that Neon Therapeutics is a company to watch out for.
In case you missed them, here are the links:
I highly recommending reading these articles as background on the science and new product development as a prelude to the latest commercialisation update we will cover in today’s post.
What did we learn from the 2017 JP Morgan presentation of the Neon Therapeutics corporate strategy?
If you didn’t make it to the presentation at JPM17 in San Francisco (it wasn’t webcast), you may be interested in this post. This is the latest update in our on-going series on neoantigens and why they matter in cancer immunotherapy.
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As we continue our journey exploring neoantigens in the context of novel cancer research in Part 3 of our latest mini-series, today we focus on the commercialisation side of the business through an interview with a leading investor, Dr Cary Pfeffer, who is a partner in Third Rock Ventures, as well as being ad interim CEO of Neon Therapeutics. We’ve written about other Third Rock companies in the past; Agios, Foundation Medicine and bluebird bio come to mind, for example.
How does an exciting early product in development move from academia to industry? There are many ways to do this, so here is the story through the eyes of one young company with strong academic connections, as a way to illustrate what can be done. It isn’t the only way, by any means.
To be sure, there are other competitor companies in the neoantigen space – Gritstone and Moderna come to mind as examples – we will cover companies in the broader landscape in a future post. There is also an incredible amount of promising research going on in academia right now, which may lead to more companies or products being licensed and developed.
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This week we’re focusing on neoantigens, what role they have to play in cancer immunotherapy and novel approaches that identify and use them as a therapeutic modality.
When you look at the cancer immunotherapy landscape it’s like looking at a stained glass window – it’s not only about the light but seeing the patterns and way the glass is aesthetically arranged in order to make it effective.
Today’s post, the second in a mini-series of three, features an interview with a thought leader doing pioneering work at the forefront of how neoantigen based vaccines can be used to target solid tumors.
The field of vaccine based cancer immunotherapy research is attracting renewed interest from VCs, angel investors and academics because of it’s potential to be used in combination with other immunotherapies.
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