Can we stop can­cer cells from evolv­ing and de­vel­op­ing drug re­sis­tance? British sci­en­tists take a leaf out of the HIV play­book

British sci­en­tists want to counter can­cer by us­ing an ap­proach that worked for HIV and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis: by cre­at­ing treat­ments to pre­clude can­cer’s abil­i­ty to be­come re­sis­tant to ex­ist­ing drugs and re­cur.

The drug dis­cov­ery pro­gram, or­ches­trat­ed by the In­sti­tute of Can­cer Re­search (ICR) in Lon­don, will be launched at a fa­cil­i­ty in the British cap­i­tal with an ini­tial £75 mil­lion (rough­ly $85 mil­lion) in­jec­tion.

De­spite the ad­vent of im­munother­a­pies in the can­cer ther­a­peu­tic ar­se­nal, the is­sue of re­sis­tance to can­cer drugs — in­clud­ing chemother­a­pies and mol­e­c­u­lar-tar­get­ed ther­a­pies — is ram­pant. For ex­am­ple, the clas­sic ap­proach of em­ploy­ing ag­gres­sive ‘shock and awe’ chemother­a­py can fal­ter be­cause too of­ten it helps fu­el an ‘sur­vival of the nas­ti­est’ evo­lu­tion among can­cer cells, ICR sci­en­tists con­tend.

ICR in­tends to ad­dress the chal­lenge on two fronts. First, is an ap­proach called ‘evo­lu­tion­ary herd­ing’. Us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, re­searchers at ICR can fore­cast how can­cer cells tend to re­act when treat­ed with a par­tic­u­lar drug. There­fore by se­lect­ing an ini­tial drug treat­ment — can­cer cells can be com­pelled to adapt in a fash­ion that makes them sus­cep­ti­ble to a sec­ondary treat­ment, or thrusts them in­to an “evo­lu­tion­ary dead end”.

The sec­ond strat­e­gy is to de­vel­op a fam­i­ly of drugs that thwart the abil­i­ty of can­cer cells to evolve and re­sist treat­ment. This fresh class of drugs are be­ing con­struct­ed to tar­get a pro­tein called APOBEC in a bid to di­min­ish the rate of mu­ta­tion in can­cer cells, slow down evo­lu­tion and de­lay re­sis­tance. Al­though the en­zyme is cru­cial for the im­mune sys­tem to adapt to dif­fer­ent in­fec­tious dis­eases, it has been im­pli­cat­ed in can­cer mu­ta­tions re­cent­ly, af­ter be­ing the fo­cus of vi­rol­o­gy re­search for over a decade.

Olivia Rossanese

Once de­vel­oped, these APOBEC in­hibitors could be ad­min­is­tered in tan­dem with ex­ist­ing tar­get­ed on­col­o­gy ther­a­pies to keep the can­cer at bay for longer pe­ri­ods, or in­deed el­e­vate it to the po­si­tion of a chron­ic dis­ease from an of­ten in­cur­able di­ag­no­sis.

“We be­lieve this will be the first treat­ment in the world that rather than deal­ing with the con­se­quences of can­cer’s evo­lu­tion and re­sis­tance, aims to di­rect­ly con­front the dis­ease’s abil­i­ty to adapt and evolve in the first place,” said Olivia Rossanese, who will serve as head of bi­ol­o­gy at the new ICR fa­cil­i­ty, in a state­ment.

An­oth­er ap­proach tout­ed by ICR is com­bin­ing can­cer drugs to com­bat drug re­sis­tance. In the lab, ICR re­searchers have ob­served that bow­el can­cer cells evolved to re­sist two tar­get­ed treat­ments, but suc­cumbed to the third, they said on Wednes­day.

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Mi­rati's KRAS drug looks like the fa­vorite in colon can­cer with new da­ta, putting the pres­sure square on Am­gen

With Amgen already providing proof-of-concept for KRAS inhibitors with its sotorasib, Mirati Therapeutics is piecing together a follow-up effort in lung cancer with data it thinks are superior. But in colon cancer, where solo sotorasib has turned in a dud, Mirati may now have a strong case for superiority.

Mirati’s adagrasib, dosed solo or in combination with chemotherapy cetuximab, showed response rates grater than sotorasib solo  and as part of combination study in a similar patient population also revealed this week at #ESMO21. Mirati’s data were presented as part of a cohort update from the Phase II KRYSTAL-1 study testing adagrasib in a range of solid tumors harboring the KRAS-G12C mutation.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

President Biden and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Chaot­ic ad­comm sees Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech boost­ers re­ject­ed for gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, but rec­om­mend­ed for old­er and high-risk pop­u­la­tions

With just days before President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 booster rollout is set to go into effect, an FDA advisory committee appeared on the verge of not recommending boosters for anyone in the US before a last-minute change of wording laid the groundwork for older adults to have access to a third dose.

The FDA’s adcomm on Vaccines and Related Biological Products (VRBPAC) roundly rejected Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for all individuals older than 16 by a 16-2 vote Friday afternoon. Soon after, however, the agency posed committee members a new question limiting booster use to the 65-and-older population and individuals at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure or comorbidities.

The best of the rest: High­lights from the be­low-the-fold pre­sen­ta­tions at #ES­MO21

This year’s ESMO Congress has had a major focus on Big Pharma drugs — most notably candidates from Merck and AstraZeneca — but there have also been updates from smaller biotechs with data looking to challenge the big-name drugmakers.

Today, we’re highlighting some of the data releases that flew under the radar at #ESMO21 — whether from early-stage drugs looking to make a mark or older stalwarts with interesting follow-up data.

As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi Sanky­o's ADC En­her­tu blows away Roche's Kad­cy­la in sec­ond-line ad­vanced breast can­cer

AstraZeneca and Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo think they’ve struck gold with their next-gen ADC drug Enhertu, which has shown some striking data in late-stage breast cancer trials and early solid tumor tests. Getting into earlier patients is now the goal, starting with Enhertu’s complete walkover of a Roche drug in second-line breast cancer revealed Saturday.

Enhertu cut the risk of disease progression or death by a whopping 72% (p=<0.0001) compared with Roche’s ADC Kadcyla in second-line unresectable and/or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients who had previously undergone treatment with a Herceptin-chemo combo, according to interim data from the Phase III DESTINY-Breast03 head-to-head study presented at this weekend’s #ESMO21.

Merck Research Laboratories CMO Roy Baynes

Mer­ck­'s Keytru­da un­corks full da­ta on lat­est ad­ju­vant win — this time in melanoma — adding bricks to ear­ly can­cer wall

In recent months, the battle for PD-(L)1 dominance has spilled over into early cancer with Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo all alone on the front lines. Keytruda now has another shell in its bandolier, and it could spell a quick approval.

Keytruda cut the risk of relapse or death by 35% over placebo (p=0.00658) in high-risk, stage 2 melanoma patients who had previously undergone surgery to remove their tumors, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-716 presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Multiple antibiotic resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacterium

A new way to in­fil­trate (and de­stroy) some of the dead­liest drug-re­sis­tant bugs

About four years ago, Ruben Tommasi, the gregarious scientific chief of antibiotics startup Entasis, walked into a meeting with his top chemist and top biologist to chew over another batch of unchanging results.

“It felt like we were running the same experiment over and over,” Tommasi told Endpoints News. “We had all sort of come to that point in time where we felt like we were banging our heads against the wall.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.