Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

Posts from the ‘Science’ category

Cancer metabolism is fast becoming an area to watch out for in R&D.  Last month I tweeted that I was attending a one day meeting at NY Academy of Sciences on Cancer Metabolism with keynote speakers Drs Lou Cantley and Craig Thompson. Jonathan Mandelbaum (@biotechbaumer) responded saying it looked like a dress rehearsal of another related meeting he was attending the following week. That was too good an opportunity to miss, so I invited Jonathan to consider guest posting a summary of the Keystone event he attended here on Pharma Strategy. I’m delighted to say he kindly took me up on the offer and what follows is Jonathan’s synopsis, including some references he chose to illustrate the key points, most of which are open access.


Back in 2009 at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Molecular Targets meeting, a researcher (Anirban Maitra) from Boston had a most interesting poster about the use of nanotechnology to deliver nab-paclitaxel (Abraxane) to pancreatic adenocarcinomas in a more targeted fashion.  You can read about it in more detail from the meeting coverage at that time.

Essentially, one of the things that stops chemotherapy being more effective in advanced pancreatic cancer is that the stromal layer forms a physical, almost impenetrable layer, that slows drugs from getting through to the tumour.


During my years in Pharmaland, I often sat in waiting rooms waiting to see the Principal Investigator (PI) for one of the studies we were doing.  I would generally see them at the end of the clinic, preferring to arrive early and chat with some of the patients to learn of their experiences, the trials and tribulations of cancer therapy.  This keeps your feet on the ground – drug development is not an academic exercise, there are real people involved after all.

This week I have been in Orlando for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Special Conference on prostate cancer chaired by Drs Arul Chinnaiyan (U. of Michigan) and Charles Sawyers (MSKCC).  It was a superb meeting, probably one of the best I’ve attended since the PI3K meeting that AACR hosted in February last year.  I wrote nearly half a Moleskine of notes that vaguely resemble chicken scratch – there were so many good talks that stimulated new ideas and explained a few scientific things I also didn’t know too well.  Learning is a continuous lifetime experience, after all.


Many readers will have noticed that the advanced prostate cancer market is rapidly becoming crowded with three new therapies (cabazitaxel, sipuleucel-T and abiraterone) already approved and several more in late stage development, including Alpharadin (radium-223) and MDV3100, both likely to file this year. In addition, others are focused on bone complications, such as denosumab, which is expected to have a tough ODAC meeting this month, and cabozantinib, a multikinase inhibitor currently in phase III trials.


Pancreatic cancer as many readers know, is one of those cancers that is generally diagnosed later than most in stage IV and as a result, has a poor prognosis, often only a year or so from diagnosis.

It has been known for a decade that constitutive Kras and NF-kB activation is one of the signature changes in the disease in the majority (80-95% ) of patients. Kras is a particularly important gene because it is often involved with on-off signaling of other genes. In addition, mutational inactivation of a key tumour suppressor gene (Ink4a/Arf) also occurs in over half (50-75%) of pancreatic adenocarcinomas. What is not known, however, is what are the key signaling pathways downstream of Kras and how they relate to pancreatic cancer.


There’s been quite a flurry of commercial news on the Pharma front this morning, with Amgen buying Micromet (whose leading product is blinatumumab in ALL) and Celgene announcing their acquisition of Avila Therapeutics who have a Bruton Kinase Inhibitor (BTK) AVL-292 in phase IB development for lymphomas, which was all the rage at the recent American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting last month.

The big news for me today, though, wasn’t the commercial acquisitions but a gem of a paper relating to science and its significance for future cancer treatment.

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One way to potentially improve long term cancer statistics is earlier detection, and in high risk patients, appropriate initiation of earlier treatment, since it is well known that the survival in stage II or III breast cancer is noticeably better than that for stage IV metastatic disease.

A critical question then, is how do we improve earlier detection?

There are a number of ways to achieve this:

  1. Imaging techniques
  2. Prognostication
  3. Diagnostics
  4. Biomarkers

After a number of basic research and science sessions over the last two days (see the Update 1 post on the science that intrigued me for more details), but the last two days heralded some excellent clinical sessions, in both oral and poster forms. These included the presentation of the much anticipated update to the BOLERO-2 trial, which was also published in the New England Journal of Medicine online and the CLEOPATRA study, also published in the same journal.  One of the more impressive posters that caught my eye was the ENCORE 301 study, which provided an update to the entinostat data in ER/PR+ HER2- advanced breast cancer.

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Yesterday evening brought a flurry of news around the New England Journal of Medicine articles for the BOLERO2 and CLEOPATRA trials, but out of respect to the presenters, I hate talking about the actual data before its being presented. Call me old fashioned if you like, but it seems odd moving up deadlines for the publication ahead of the presentations instead of releasing them on the day and is a little disrespectful of the journal towards the presenter and attendees.

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