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ASCO 2014: Cancer immune therapy race heats up

Published on 15/05/14 at 01:58pm
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A number of major players in oncology are set to showcase rival immunotherapy data at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in Chicago.

The conference, the largest of its kind in the world, kicks off at the end of May and will feature presentations based on more than 5,000 abstracts released earlier this week. 

Merck, Roche, AstraZeneca and Bristol Myers-Squibb are all working on drugs designed to boost the immune system’s capacity to fight tumours – and they will be vying for attention at the five-day event.

The treatments in question, known as anti-PD1 or anti-PDL1 therapies, target the protein that cancers deploy to evade the body’s natural immune defences. 

Merck, which FiercePharma reports is the ‘leader’ in this particular development race, will outline the progress of skin cancer drug MK- 3475. The treatment recorded impressive data in November, with regulatory submission already underway.

Swiss competitor Roche is focussing on bladder cancer, with the firm’s head of Global Medical Affairs Oncology, Niko Andre, saying that he is particularly excited about new data to be presented on investigational treatment MPDL3280A. 

With specific advances in bladder cancer few and far between in recent years, Andre touts the upcoming presentation as ‘the first publicly presented’ data in the area.

AZ’s efforts are concentrated on lung cancer. Its anti-PDL1 candidate MEDI4736 is poised to progress directly from Phase I to III trials, with early-stage data to be discussed at the conference. 

Bahija Jallal, executive VP of AZ subsidiary MedImmune says: “Immuno-oncology is developing at a rapid pace and redefining the cancer treatment landscape. We believe that combinations of immunotherapies, both with each other and with highly targeted small molecules, will be the key to achieving the greatest patient benefit.” 

In other MEDI4736-related news, MedImmune has signed a deal with Incyte to investigate the drug’s effectiveness in combination with the latter firm’s IDO1 inhibitor, INCB24360. As part of the collaboration, researchers will look at a number of different cancer types. 

Finally, BMS will showcase data from two studies of its investigational anti-PD1 drug nivolumab at ASCO. The US-based firm already has one well-established cancer immunotherapy on the market, Yervoy (ipilimumab) for melanoma, which came close to sales of $1 billion dollars last year. 

Speaking more generally about the themes he expects to emerge at ASCO, Roche’s Andre believes debate will centre on pharma’s increasingly multi-faceted approach to cancer.

He comments: “A very interesting discussion that we’re going to see at ASCO is how do we integrate all of these different treatment avenues to one custom-made, patient-centric approach?”

Hugh McCafferty

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