AACR preview – Novel targets in the spotlight
The annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research has steadily been gaining in importance, and when its latest instalment kicks off in New Orleans next month investors will be watching particularly for initial data from novel cancer immunotherapy mechanisms.
These include first-in-human results for Roche and Amgen’s respective Ox40 agonist and anti-CSF1R MAb (see table below). More established anti-PD-1/PD-L1 MAbs will feature too, and in cell therapy a major symposium on April 19 will focus on CAR-T, while Kite will provide more data on its most advanced engineered T-cell receptor project.
The most advanced checkpoint inhibitor results concern overall survival data from Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo/Yervoy combo in melanoma, though this is an approved use. For novel indications look to survival results from Bristol’s Checkmate-141 – a head and neck cancer trial that was stopped early for efficacy in January.
Approval in head and neck cancer would further extend Opdivo’s lead over Merck & Co’s Keytruda, which features at AACR in a presentation of Keynote-006, a trial in first-line melanoma irrespective of Braf status – an approved indication as of December.
And, as new indications go, Keytruda data in Merkel cell carcinoma will also be presented; this rare cancer type might be the first indication for Merck KGaA/Pfizer’s avelumab, which will itself be the subject of results from the Javelin study in solid tumours.
|Selected AACR abstracts
|Keytruda vs Yervoy
|Merck & Co
|Keynote-006, 1st-line melanoma
|Merck & Co
|Merkel cell carcinoma
|Checkmate-141, squamous head & neck cancer
|Javelin Solid Tumor study
|Listeria-based therapy before robotic surgery
|Raf/Ras mutated tumours
|TKI-naive pts harbouring gene rearrangement
|Solid tumours with NTRK gene fusions
|1st in human Ox40 agonist
|1st in human anti-CSF1R MAb
|Johnson & Johnson
|1st in class ATM kinase inhibitor
|Juno, Novartis etc
|CAR T Cells: New Models in the Showroom
|Relevant to Juno
|Mage A3 TCR
|Metastatic cancer, HLA-A1-positive pts
|EBV-associated nasopharyngeal carcinoma
For new targets, however, Roche’s RG7888 and Amgen’s AMG 820 could get the most attention. Not only has there been precious little data so far from agents acting on immune checkpoints beyond PD-1/PD-L1 and CTLA4, but investors will also note potential readacross to other assets.
For instance, AstraZeneca has a competing anti-Ox40 MAb, MEDI6469, while the anti-CSF1R mechanism of AMG 820 is relevant to Five Prime’s FPA008, which acts the same way. AMG 820 is separately in a combo trial with Keytruda, which is also being combined with Daiichi Sankyo's PLX3397, a CSF1R tyrosine kinase inhibitor.
Other novel mechanisms – including Johnson & Johnson’s anti-Vista MAb, Astra's Ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) kinase inhibitor and Novartis’s anti-Tim3 MAb – will also feature at AACR, though it is not clear at present whether any clinical data will be presented.
The 2015 AACR meeting was the venue for the first major disappointment for CAR-T therapies in solid tumours – specifically in mesothelioma with Novartis’s CART-meso (AACR – Solid tumour CAR-T foray lives up to its low-key billing, April 20, 2015).
This year provides a second chance. In addition to a special CAR-T symposium, three cell therapy sessions will be of interest to investors in Kite Pharma and Juno. The former will present an update on the potentially pivotal Zuma-1 trial of KTE-C19 and clinical data on its first engineered T-cell receptor project, targeting the Mage A3 antigen and licensed for $1.2m from the NCI last October.
Juno will have preclinical presentations, but an update from the NCI’s anti-CD22 CAR-T project will be relevant, since Juno now holds rights to this construct, having licensed it from Opus Bio as JCAR018. Particularly important will be the extent of any benefit in patients relapsing on initial CD19-directed CAR-T therapy.
For now, however, with just abstract headlines and some abstract texts unveiled, share price reactions have been muted – with one exception: Advaxis has traded up 29% over the past month on the revelation that its listeria-based therapy axalimogene filolisbac would feature in a late-breaker. The company was hit by a US clinical hold last year, though this was lifted in December.
Given how important early-stage data are becoming for oncology projects there should be plenty more scope for share price movement once the AACR gets under way.
EP Vantage will be reporting from New Orleans, where the AACR conference begins on April 16.