It amuses me to realise that I’ve been writing about and following PARP inhibition since 2006 or so, when the field was in that twilight zone of early drug development between preclinical and clinical, thus just beginning to hit some sort of consciousness and broader interest in cancer research.
The AACR Molecular Targets meeting in 2009 was the first scientific meeting I covered as a science writer on the old Pharma Strategy Blog, which focused on early drug development from preclinical to phase 2 – after that I would rapidly lose interest and move on to the next new shiny scientific lure to research and discuss. No doubt this eager new writer ran about like an overenthusiastic little puppy in the poster halls chatting to scientists about their research, much to the amusement of the more staid press room, who at that time probably never ventured out of the darkened basement gloom.
In one of the press briefings there, I met an engaging and thoughtful scientist who was presenting his poster on PARP and synthetic lethality. He kindly took the time to explain in plain English a commonsense analogy that was most helpful for grasping complex concepts. Having sat through several long talks from luminaries in the field such as Drs Hillary Calvert and Alan Ashworth that covered double strand breaks and DNA repair mechanisms, it was a most welcome respite in the hurly burly of the conference!
Imagine his imagery…
You have a four legged coffee table or wooden chair and one of the legs breaks off or is damaged. The table remains standing, albeit less stable than before. Now a second leg breaks, and inevitably, the table is so unstable that it falls over.
Once you grasp that simple analogy for synthetic lethality, you have the basic idea of DNA double strand breaks and how inefficient repair can lead to vulnerabilities in the tumour that can be exploited.
The scientist I spoke to in Boston back in 2009 was Dr Mark O’Connor.
He was involved in DNA damage response research at a little known private company in Cambridge, UK called KuDos, who were subsequently acquired by AstraZeneca. Nearly a decade on and Dr O’Connor is still at the company; he now heads up their DNA damage response area.
Dr Mark O’Connor, AZN
With olaparib (Lynparza) since approved by the FDA in ovarian cancer and slated for the ASCO 2017 plenary session for HER2- breast cancer, things have certainly changed a lot since those early heady days of KuDos and the R&D journey has not been without its notable ups and downs along the way.
In Chicago earlier this month, I had the pleasure of catching up again with Dr O’Connor to learn more about the journey, and importantly, where things are going next. It’s quite an interesting roller coaster ride, to be sure!
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Often times when we see promising data presented at a cancer conference, we interview a thought leader and post the expert opinion with additional commentary and insights.
ASCO17 OlympiAD Plenary
At ASCO, we decided to take a different approach, a twist on the usual fare… given that two of the phase 3 trials, OLYMPIAD and APHINITY, received significant attention and focus involved breast cancer, we reached out to numerous experts and curated their sentiments on both studies. For completeness and fair balance, these included industry and academic opinions.
Today, we begin with the OLYMPIAD trial presented by Dr Mark Robson on behalf of his colleagues exploring the role of the PARP inhibitor, olaparib (Lynparza), in HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer with germline BRCA mutations.
There’s a lot to consider here, not least is where do we go next from here and which PARP combination approaches are researchers most excited about?
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We now turn our sights to targeted therapies and DNA Damage Repair (DDR). This is an important topic that has seen much focus in ovarian cancer of late and will likely see renewed interest in breast cancer at the forthcoming ASCO meeting next month. As we segue from one set of conference coverage to the next, there is inevitably going to be overlap, which is a good thing here as it helps with background and preparation in getting up to speed.
There is no doubt that DDR has had a bit of chequered history over the last decade, whether it be the spectacular (and sadly predictable) flop of Sanofi’s iniparib in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), the negative ODAC incurred by AstraZeneca’s olaparib in ovarian cancer, or AbbVie’s more recent veliparib failures, to the much more positive events such as three PARP drugs now approved in different lines of therapy in ovarian cancer (olaparib, rucaparib and niraparib).
If ever there was a niche for the roller coaster ride that is oncology R&D, it has to be PARP inhibitors. There’s much more to DDR than just PARP though.
Indeed, there are multiple intriguing targets to explore and also the potential for combinations with cancer immunotherapy approaches that may yield encouraging results in the future.
Can we go beyond ovarian cancer into other tumour types and if so, which ones look encouraging and how woluld we go about exploring those idesa? What makes one approach more successful than another?
Here we explore the world of DDR through the lens one company’s approach and look at what they’ve done, where are they now and where they hope to be. It certainly makes for an intriguing and candid fireside chat.
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Dr James Gulley is Chief of the Genito-Urinary malignancies branch and Director of the Medical Oncology service at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the National Institutes of Health. He’s a world-leading GU cancer expert and at the forefront of pioneering research to make cancer immunotherapy work in prostate cancer.
We last spoke to him at ASCO 2015 (See post: The future of prostate cancer immunotherapy). You can listen to excerpts from this interview on Episode 4 of the Novel Targets podcast (See: The non-inflamed tumour show).
Almost two years on, and new research by Dr Gulley and colleagues from the NCI shows that the STING pathway may have an important role to play in prostate cancer immunotherapy. Activation of this pathway through a novel mechanism could turn a cold non-inflamed tumor into a more inflamed or hotter one in men with advanced prostate cancer. How cool is that?!
At the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) that was recently held in Washington DC, Dr Gulley graciously spoke to BSB about some of the novel trials that are underway at the NCI, with the aim of making cancer immunotherapy work in men with advanced prostate cancer.
Dr Jim Gulley, NCI at AACR17
This is the seventh expert interviews in our series from AACR17 where we explore the conundrum:
How does Dr Gulley plan to light the immune camp fire in prostate cancer?
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Following the recent approval of Clovis’s rucaparib (Rubraca) by FDA under priority review as monotherapy for the treatment of women with certain types of advanced ovarian cancer, then impressive SOLO-2 maintenance data after initial chemotherapy at SGO earlier this month, PARP inhibitors continue to be in the news.
There’s always more though!
This afternoon saw the approval of Tesaro’s PARP inhibitor niraparib (Zejula) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for maintenance treatment of women with ovarian cancer who are in a complete or partial response to platinum-based chemotherapy (Link to label).
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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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There’s no secret or surprise with our latest AACR Preview as this week the focus takes a slight turns or detour to the annual meeting of the Society for Gynecology Oncology being held in National Harbor, Maryland.
PARP inhibitors in ovarian cancer have been a hot topic since last autumn when the PARP inhibitor data dropped at ESMO in Copenhagen, and was not without controversy either.
We’ve been following the trials, tribulations and even machinations, of the clinical development of olaparib, rucaparib and niraparib for a while now so what’s in store in the latest round of salvoes?
And importantly, what else can we expect to see in DC at AACR next month?
For a tumour type that hasn’t received much attention over the last decade or two, things are distinctly picking up. Is it all good though?
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HI Koko Crater Flowers
Over the last week or so, we’ve received a lot of questions on the following topics relating to women’s cancers in breast and ovarian carcinomas:
- APHINITY impact – pertuzumab and neratinib
- PARPs in ovarian cancer – niraparib, rucaparib and olaparib
- Seattle Genetics and Immunomedics
So this is probably a good time for a February BSB Reader Q&A post on the hot topics of the moment in cancer research.
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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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Today we continue the second of a two part interview with a global thought leader who is also a scientist-clinician and well versed in cancer research as well as clinical trials.
Old Town Hall, Munchen
We explore how we can do clinical trials better in order to learn via a more rigorous process what works, what doesn’t, and why. After all, we we don’t know why certain approaches didn’t work or what the mechanisms of resistance are, how can we possibly improve?
Randomness is not necessarily a good thing in clinical research, especially if you don’t know what target you’re actually trying to hit!
If you missed the first part of this latest KOL interview and want to catch up then you can find it here (Link).
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