Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

Posts from the ‘Technology’ category

Recently, I came across an exciting new development in a Nature publication and couldn’t resist teasing my Twitter followers with this terse statement:

Naturally, this mischievous tweet set off a lot of folks frantically trying to guess what I was referring to and the @replies came in thick and fast.

The National Science Foundation defines transformative as:

After the hullabaloo on Friday regarding AbbVie’s suspension of the ABT-199 trials following not one, but two, unexpected deaths from tumor lysis syndrome (TLS), a few people asked what is this condition and what causes it?

In simple terms, lysis is a medical word used to describe the break up or breakdown of cells – whether through decomposition, destruction, or dissolving. Thus, we have hemolysis, which is the destruction of red blood cells with the release of hemoglobin.


Yesterday, I mentioned that some of the best bits of this year’s American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting were the numerous gems in the poster sessions.

Reuben Sierra, Ming Tsao's Lab (with permission)

One of the coolest such posters I came across was from Ming Tsao’s group.

Specifically, Rafael Sierra (see photo right) was hosting an excellent piece of research entitled: Overcoming resistance to EGFR-tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapy in non-small cell lung cancer.

This is an area of much needed research and breakthroughs.



One of the biggest challenges facing cancer research was aptly summarised by Levi Garraway and Pasi Jänne in this month’s Cancer Discovery journal:

“All successful cancer therapies are limited by the development of drug resistance. The increase in the understanding of the molecular and biochemical bases of drug efficacy has also facilitated studies elucidating the mechanism(s) of drug resistance.”

It will therefore come as no surprise to PSB readers that resistance occurs with two drugs approved by the FDA only last year; vemurafenib (BRAFV600E melanoma) and crizotinib (ALK+ lung cancer). We’ve discussed the development of resistance in melanoma here via several potential mechanisms in the past and potential strategies for overcoming them (eg MEK inhibitors), but what about lung cancer?


Last year saw some interesting developments from MD Anderson Cancer Center in early phase clinical trials that may have a far-reaching impact on the future of cancer research as we know it:

  1. At ASCO in June, Dr Tsimberidou presented the initial results from a phase I study run by the MD Anderson Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics group. Instead of testing patients with a given cancer (eg lung) for individual mutations eg ALK or EGFR and then offering patients a targted drug as we normally do, they ran a broad diagnostic panel across a multitude of patients with different cancers to determine what the tumour was telling them about the aberrations and selected appropriate targeted therapies. While the study was small in size, the results were better than random selection.

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

One of the great things about following the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) on Twitter, is that they regularly share technical open access articles from their journals for scientists to read.  Of course, many will have access through their institution subscription, but there are also probably quite a few interested community oncologists and scientists like me that don’t. The idea of sharing some of their really important scientific research with the broader public is a great one – a little bit of goodwill goes a long way and furthers their cause too.

A couple of articles in the latest Cancer Discovery looked at some rather promising, and perhaps a little unexpected, findings pertaining to epigenetic therapy.

What are epigenetics?

If you read up on epigenetics in the medical journals, you will come across some of the most dense and complex articles I’ve ever come across in cancer biology. That said, there are a few readable examples around such as Bird’s (2007) short insight piece in Nature.


Heterogeneity remains one of the biggest barriers to progress in clinical research. Triple negative breast cancer is an excellent example of this conundrum as I’ve said many times here on this blog – it’s defined not what it is but what it’s not.  By that, I mean it’s a broad catch-all for all those women with breast cancer who are essentially ER/PR- HER2- but beyond that are likely other subsets yet to be identified or characterised.


“Scientists at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia have identified a key mechanism of metastasis that could lead to blocking tumor growth if their findings are confirmed.”

AACR press release

Loved this opening to an AACR press release about a key paper (freely available for anyone to download – see the reference session below) that was just published in Cancer Research by David Waisman’s group.

Now, before getting into the technical details, I was reflecting recently on both my recent awesome trip to the MD Anderson basic research campus at Smithville, Austin where a lot of research into tumorigenesis is conducted and pointed questions from patients about why their hasn’t been enough progress in treating and curing metastatic breast cancer.

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