Industry awaits key immunotherapy results at ASCO

pharmafile | May 20, 2015 | News story | Research and Development, Sales and Marketing ASCO, Cancer, oncology, pharma 

This year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference has a strong focus on immunotherapy, as pharma ramps up its efforts in this exciting treatment area.

ASCO is taking place in Chicago, US from 29 May to 2 June, and is traditionally a place for companies to announce the latest results from cancer drug trials.

Results from studies investigating BMS’ Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilumumab), two of the first PD-1 inhibitor immunotherapies approved for sale, are being presented – including one investigating the two therapies in combination. In a trial in squamous lung cancer, Opdivo lengthened one-year overall survival from 46% to 22 per cent.

AstraZeneca’s ASCO presentations include data from several studies involving MEDI4736 and AZD9291 – which has garnered excitement for demonstrating 13.5 month progression free survival in a recent trial – including one study combining the two immunotherapies with AZD6094 and selumetinib.

Such drug combinations in immuno-oncology are a top priority for the firm at the moment, as Steve Olsen, head of global oncology affairs, explains:

“We know that this works with chemotherapy, that poly-chemotherapy for a lot of diseases is better than single agent chemotherapy. With targeted therapies, we believe it’s the same – and especially by combining things such as drugs that rev-up the immune system with drugs that are targeting the pathways that drive cancer cells to grow.”

There have been concerns over MEDI4736’s side effects, however, after serious adverse events were reported in 31% of patients in one trial.

Meanwhile, Pfizer and Merck KGaA are jointly presenting data from nine trials of their immuno-oncology drug avelumab in a range of cancers. The drug is co-developed by the two companies as part of a $3 billion deal.

Roche subsidiary Genentech is ‘particularly excited’ about its data in different types of advanced lung cancer, including results for its investigational immunotherapy MPDL3280A.

It is also showcasing drugs from the other most exciting area of cancer treatment – precision medicine. This includes preliminary data on venetoclax, which recently received breakthrough therapy designation from the FDA for treating chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) patients with a specific genome mutation.

Venetoclax is co-developed with AbbVie, who will be revealing data from several of their own investigational compounds at the conference, including immunotherapy elotuzumab in multiple myeloma.

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