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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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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One of the surprising things I learned over the summer was how many people misunderstand how advanced ovarian cancer is treated as a disease… it isn’t really one disease to start with, but is actually a series of subsets depending on the molecular underpinnings and also how women with the condition react to therapy.
Imagine then, when we see a series of press releases and abstracts emerge on PARP inhibitors followed by a rather indecent and sudden rush to judgment by Wall St and investors on the ‘Winner takes All’ out of the lot?
Except that real life doesn’t work that way in clinical practice.
A head/desk moment to be sure, and a frustrating one for those who understand what this is actually all about. To address this siituation, we had the pleasure of communicating with KOLs remotely or sitting down with several thought leaders in gynecologic cancer in Copenhagen to debate various aspects relating to current treatment paradigms, new clinical trial data with PARPs, and what they are most excited about going forward.
Today’s post highlights our latest thought leader interview with an experienced GYN oncologist and their perspectives on the rucaparib and niraparib data presented earlier this month at ESMO.
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Today’s news that an FDA Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) review will not be required for rucaparib is good news for Clovis Oncology. The company announced this via an SEC 8K filing:
“The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has notified Clovis Oncology, Inc. that FDA is not currently planning to hold an advisory committee meeting to discuss the Company’s New Drug Application for rucaparib.”
However, given the unmet medical need in ovarian cancer, a lot of companies are targeting both platinum sensitive and platinum resistant disease.
In our fourth preview of the forthcoming European Society for Medical Oncology (#ESMO16) meeting we’re looking at 9 key ovarian cancer abstracts to watch out for at ESMO.
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Tesaro’s niraparib is a highly selective poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) 1/2 inhibitor that can induce synthetic lethality in tumor cells with homologous recombination DNA repair deficiencies (HRD), including germline BRCA-mutated tumours. It received a lot of attention yesterday following the company’s announcement that the phase 3 trial successfully met its primary endpoint. The trial was expected to readout this month, so it was bang on schedule.
Braving the scrum in the ASCO 2016 poster hall
The results generated a lot of discussion and also a bunch (half a dozen!) of questions from readers, since there was a lot noise around the top-line data in the press release, but very little real analysis or context.
I was planning on rolling out the draft posts we have been working on Gems from the Poster Halls, which included one focused on ovarian cancer. It therefore makes sense to combine the poster analysis with a reader Q&A on ovarian cancer, including a detailed look at Tesaro’s niraparib as there are some important subtleties that many have missed.
Inevitably this ended up as a rather meaty analysis rather than the quick review I originally intended!
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