Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘TRACERx study’

Casa Milà, Barcelona

One of the pleasures of going to international cancer immunotherapy conferences is the opportunity to meet great scientists such as Sergio Quezada, PhD. He’s a Professor of Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy at University College London (UCL) Cancer Institute.

After his PhD, he joined the laboratory of Jim Allison at MSKCC in 2004, and as we heard from Nobel Laureate Sir Richard Roberts FRS on the last episode of the Novel Targets Podcast (Link), working in the laboratory of a future Nobel Laureate is one of his 10 tongue in cheek suggestions to improve your chances of winning a Nobel prize!

Professor Quezada kindly spoke to BSB last week at the European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) “Defense is the Best Attack” conference.

In Barcelona, we talked about the research done by his UCL group into regulatory T cells (Tregs) that led to the development of a novel first-in-class Treg depleting anti-CD25 antibody.

As Prof Quezada told BSB:

“This was the dream. It was basic biology, a big curiosity, lots of basic biology and being very stubborn and lots of luck. And now we have something that came out of PhD students and postdocs that some medic or nurse is gonna be injecting at the end of the year into a patient, so it’s really exciting. It’s really, really exciting!”

We enjoyed talking with Prof Quezada and appreciated the perspicacious insights he shared on where we’ve come from and where we may be going.

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There is a lot of interest of late in targeting neoantigens in cancer therapeutically. If you missed it do listen to Episode 20 of the Novel Targets Podcast, which features several pioneers in the field.

At the recent European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) meeting, we heard Dr Patrick Ott from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute present the latest clinical data for Neon’s cancer vaccine approach (See: interview with Dr Ott).

If you have an interest in neoantigen based cancer treatments, however, then a company on the horizon that we’re excited about is Achilles Therapeutics.

It’s an early stage company, in what is very much still a developing and emerging field. Founded just over two years ago, it has a strong academic pedigree. The scientific co-founders are Professors Karl Peggs, Mark Lowdell, Charles Swanton and Sergio Quezada.

BSB readers will recall our prior interviews with Prof Charlie Swanton FRS (See: here and here), where he talked about the groundbreaking TRACERx study he’s leading, some of the insights it is generating regarding neoantigens, and their importance in cancer evolution.

Achilles Therapeutics was established to commercialise the intellectual property being generated from the TRACERx program.

While in London en-route to ESMO18, the CEO of Achilles Therapeutics, Dr Iraj Ali kindly spoke to BSB about where the company is, and some of its future plans.

From what we heard, it’s definitely a company we can expect to hear a lot more about in the cancer immunotherapy space. Check it out!

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At the 2018 AACR annual meeting, one of the noteworthy talks given to the 22,000+ attendees in Chicago was a plenary lecture by Charles Swanton from the Francis Crick Institute in London. He’s a Professor of Personalized Cancer Medicine at University College London and chief clinician for Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

Professor Swanton is the leader of a landmark clinical study, TRACERx (TRAcking Cancer Evolution through therapy (Rx)) study, which involves analyzing how cancers and in particular, lung and renal cancers, evolve over time.

There’s a lot of heavy science and jargon inherent in this niche that often frightens off people, but that need not always be the case.

What is fascinating, though, is the very idea that tracking the development of early stage cancers might teach us new insights and lessons about alternative approaches to oncology R&D.

We have all seen the limitations of chemotherapy, targeted therapies and even immune checkpoint blockade, so what other approaches can be considered that link back to the biology of the disease and how it evolves over time?

What we wanted to achieve here was a clear and elegant story about what Prof Swanton and his colleagues are doing, as well as a simple grounding on the basics of disease progression and how that can translate clinically into new therapeutics that might make a real difference to the lives of people with cancer.

It’s a fascinating story and may well be one of the most underappreciated recent developments in cancer research…

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Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is big news this morning with the announcement from Genentech/Roche that the IMpower150 trial exploring whether adding atezolizumab to the standard of care Avastin plus chemotherapy hit it’s first co-primary endpoint of PFS. The data will be presented at European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Immuno Oncology Congress in Geneva, Switzerland next month. The other co-primary endpoint, overall survival, is expected in a couple of months.

I’m delighted that this trial hit a positive note, especially after a few folks were surprised at our emphatic positive prediction for both the PFS and OS outcomes in reviews this year when we looked at it in the summer and again in the fall – see: predictions in 1L NSCLC trials followed by red and green flags.

In the meantime, recently there was some very important news in the lung cancer niche relating to the field of genomics and our understanding of how tumours develop and evolve.

It’s easy for many folks to forget that even in a tumour type that is considered to be a hot/inflamed one due to the high tumour mutation burden (TMB), not all patients respond to checkpoint therapy upfront and not all will achieve lasting durable responses that go out five years. Resistance (primary and acquired), as well as immune escape, will inevitably have a large impact on many patients.

Understanding the underlying biology of the disease will not only help us figure out the causes of non-response and relapse, but also explore rational combination approaches that might improve outcomes.

Just as the triplet of atezo/bevacizumab/chemo has now been show to be superior to the control doublet, we may well see other approaches evolve in the near to medium term future.

The Dynamic Duo at #TARGETS17

Up on deck today is a timely yet rare joint interview that explores the science behind how cancers (including lung cancers) evolve and adapt to try and evade not only detection, but also being destroyed, by anti-cancer therapeutics.

Professor Charles Swanton (Crick and UCL) and Dr James Gulley (NCI) make for a thoughtful and compelling double act.

It was an absolute delight and a privilege to conduct our latest BSB fireside chat with them together. What they had to say was fascinating.

Often we have jested about putting researchers in the BSB hotseat, but frankly when it comes to people of this calibre, the tables are usually turned and the interviewer is the one in the hotseat with some selective pressure to keep up and maintain a flow of intelligent questions!

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