Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘NK cells’

It’s time for some commentary and insights regarding important emerging data from the AACR meeting.

The route to success in oncology R&D is always paved with gold, after all, although big ticket acquisitions may take some of the sting out of the tail.

As always, there were some hidden gems in the AACR21 program — in the first of our post meeting critiques, we take a careful look at the what’s behind the veneer.

We have a round baker’s dozen of early new product development compounds and explore them all to find out what interesting, as well as where there are potential pointers for future challenges which may need to be addressed…

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It’s that time of year when we look to what the coming year and future holds and it’s hard to imagine that targeting natural killer (NK) cells won’t have an important role to play in cancer immunotherapy.

When it comes to NK cells, there’s definitely a lot of new product development activity that we look forward to hearing about in 2021, and the commercial interest is palpable, as evidenced by Sanofi’s November 2020 offer of €308M to acquire Kiadis for their NK cell technology platform.

Like old friends, there are many thought leaders BSB enjoys catching up with every few years, and one of them is Dr Todd Fehniger. Dr Fehniger is a Professor of Medicine at Washington University in St Louis and a leading translational researcher in the NK field.

Long time readers may recall our first interview with him back in 2016 where he discussed a paper from his lab published in Science Translational Medicine on “Cytokine-induced memory-like natural killer cells exhibit enhanced responses against myeloid leukemia.”

At ASH20, Dr Fehniger kindly shared with BSB his views on some of the NK cell therapy data presented at the meeting, as well as commentary on where the NK field is at, where it is going and the questions that remain unanswered.

This post is the first of a two part interview with Dr Fehniger providing fresh insights and analysis into the future of NK cell therapy. There was a lot of enthusiasm of late around various developments in this niche, including the Gamida Cell and other key clinical data, but how did an independent expert react to the findings? Were they as enthusiastic as investors or not?

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When the boat comes in

Much has been written about new and emerging immuno-oncology targets where we can add new targeted agents to existing immunotherapies – after all, quite a few have already tried and failed in clinical trials to shift the survival curve upwards and to the right.

Can it be done?

I firmly believe so, but this endeavour is going to take the whole field much time and energy, as well as quite a few iterations in molecule and trial design.  No one knows what the next big target is though, but when they do it will be a bit like when the boat comes in – you know it when you see it.

In the spotlight today is a relatively obscure target we have written about perhaps once or twice before and now there is suddenly burgeoning interest in this subniche with a couple of players already active in the space.  Will there be others? Maybe, it will likely depend on how the phase 1 trials pan out.

We have attempted to cover a couple of key questions:

  • What can we learn about the science and research conducted thus far?
  • Why is a big biotech company suddenly interested in this target?
  • Which tumour types look like being important?

Most importantly, though, a long time reader wrote in and asked why on earth is there sudden interest?  Will start a new stampede?  Who are the competition?

Good questions, and now we get to set the scene to explain what’s what and why the target matters…

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Last week we talked about finding ways to make the T cells work harder and smarter – there are numerous ways to do this, but cytokines might be one interesting way to begin the search.

What about NK and other immune cells though, can we do the same with these too?

This week we are focusing on various cell therapy approaches with some academic and industry interviews to share, along with some analysis of arising issues as well as some new developments to review and discuss.

In the first of the series, we have an academic thought leader in the spotlight who had a few interesting points to make on novel cell therapies…

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A high tide marker stands out on the beach, what stood out at ASGCT20 for you?

As Covid–19 continues to exert its impact on the cancer conference schedule, the good news is that it isn’t a total wrecking ball effect as organisations turn to virtual meetings to enable researchers to share their work.

Some of the events we have ‘attended’ this year have been prerecorded in advance, while others have taken the form of live events. Having listened to both, I can say they have advantages and disadvantages either way.

To me, it doesn’t really matter if you are flexible and appreciate the effort the scientists are making to show their wares.

This week it’s the turn of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT) to be in the spotlight with a truly ‘live’ meeting.

In the latest post, we focus on some key Gems from the Poster Halls…

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This week the conference cycle continues with the annual meeting of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT) (Twitter #ASGCT20).

Due to the ongoing travel challenges and need for social distancing as result of Covid–19, one key annual immunology meeting originally slated for this month was AAI in Honolulu, which was sadly cancelled. Fortunately, ASGCT is being held as a live virtual meeting instead, so do check it out if you have a keen interest in this field.

One area we’re hoping to learn more about at ASGCT20 is cell therapy using natural killer (NK) cells. It’s an exciting and emerging area, which is attracting a lot of interest of late.

Those following the NK cell space will no doubt have seen the recent announcement of the collaboration between Kite/Gilead and Melbourne based oNKo-innate, co-founded by Prof Nick Huntington (@Dr_Nick_Bikes) and Dr Jai Rautella (Link to PR).

Other NK focused companies in the news include the licensing by Avectas of the CAR-NK cell therapy from Galway based ONK Therapeutics, founded by Prof Mike O’Dwyer (@MichaelodwyerMD) (Link to PR).

It’s definitely an exciting time to be an NK cell biologist!

In our ongoing series of expert interviews, we caught up with Prof Huntington from Melbourne to talk about the potential of CAR-NK cell therapies.

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In the fourth part of our mini-series in novel targets and agents in development we turn to novel cell therapy approaches that are perhaps under the radar for many observers.

While these might seem bleak times during a pandemic, there’s always a silver lining somewhere

While much attention has been focused on antigen loss or downregulation of the target wih adoptive cell therapies, research continues to evaluate various solutions to the problem.

One obvious way is to develop dual CARs or target multiple antigen targets of relevance to the tumour type being investigated.

There are other potential solutions being looked at, both in preclinical animal models and in translational work using cells from people treated with HSCT or CAR T cell therapies.

Here, we look at an alternative immunotherapy approach, which with time may have utility in both hematologic malignancies, as well as solid tumours…

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Time to unlock some novel IO targets?

Continuing our latest four part mini-series, this one is on novel targets and agents and we now turn our attention to immuno-oncology in the last two articles pertaining to this particular topic.

You can read the first two articles on targeted therapies here and here.

For the avoidance of any doubt, this latest review is not about T cells, far from it.

Instead we cover six different areas, most of which are related or integrated in some shape of form.

There’s a lot of promising new science now coming out to help us better understand the underlying biology and also think out of the box about ways to enhance or improve on existing research.

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In our latest expert interview, we depart from the usual focus on one of two particular or narrow topics and indulge in a more wide ranging discussion to explore a variety of issues facing the IO field and look at them from the perspective of a researcher who is experienced in working with antibodies in various forms.

We cover a lot of ground from CAR-T cells to bispecifics to NK cells – while many people in industry may see these approaches as separate modalities in different niches, in the future we may well see a greater convergent and opportunities for regimens and combinations rather than a more nihilistic either/or approach.

I have long been fascinated with design of molecules and how different tweaks or enhancements can change the way something works – for better or worse. Just as we have learned much from immune agonists and their biphasic curves that result from constant stimulation (and ways to fix that too), so too will we see CARs, T cell engagers, and NK cell therapies adapt and improve in terms of how they are constructed.

Who better to talk about these changes and the learnings to be had lately than someone who has built and tested many antibodies for a living and is now running his own company?

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After yesterday’s look at a biotech company (F-star) who are focused on adaptive approaches with bispecific antibodies using checkpoint and immune agonist targets, we now shift direction within Europe to a completely different concept, although both are tetramer-based.

Oncology R&D can be a stop-start journey that is highly unpredictable and uncertain!

In the third part of our latest mini-series on bispecific antibodies, we now take a look a company who are evaluating this modality as a way to activate NK cells and stimulate the innate immune system. With all the fuss and attention on the adaptive immune system and checkpoint blockade, is there a role for innate immunotherapies?

Rather than look at this aspect as competitive, smart companies are seeking ways to complement existing backbones to determine if the outcomes can be boosted by targeting both innate and adaptive systems in a more coordinated manner.

To find out more about these developments, we talked to Dr Adi Hoess, CEO of Affimed, a German biotech company who are developing innate immunotherapies.

They have certainly been on a roller coaster ride of late, with clinical hold and abandonment of a leading program balanced by encouraging initial data with other projects, so what gives?

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