DDW Turning Science into Business Summit: Cancer research

Cancer research

DDW recently hosted an online event, sponsored by Taconic Biosciences, which outlined areas of advancement and opportunity in the cancer research market. Megan Thomas summarises the key points examined by the participating experts.

New drug discovery and development concepts

The event started with a panel discussion on new drug discovery and development concepts and tools in cancer research. The panel was hosted by DDW’s Reece Armstrong, who engaged with Dr Michael Seiler, Vice President of Commercial Products at Taconic Biosciences; Spiro Rombotis, CEO of Cyclacel; Dr Joseph Peterson, CTO & Co-founder of SimBioSys; and Dr Xueming Qian, CEO of Transcenta.

Rombotis began by saying that he thought the major issues we are facing in the dawn of the 21st century are escape and resistance. He also reiterated an issue which he credits to Dr Richard Pazdur, Director of the FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence (OCE), which is the problem of approving weak drugs.

Qian commented that cancer cells are extremely smart, because they gain the upper hand either through genetic mutation or evolving mutations based on the pressures they experience in their environment. They make the most of their environment to gain a survival advantage, and there are a lot of elements involved. He said: “Although we know some of them, we actually know a lot less. The more we know, the less we know, and so this is a very complicated process.”

Peterson added that at the cellular scale, there’s a tension between the healthy cells resisting those structural changes, and the cancerous cells growing out of control and beyond their boundaries. At the organism scale, on the other hand, you’re seeing remodeling of the local environment, angiogenesis, to help pull in more nutrients and ultimately give rise to the growth of the tumour and ultimately escape. Another factor he mentioned is that drug development is focused on an efficacy versus effectiveness problem, which Rombotis also mentioned. He said: “We move from asking whether a drug will be effective in a population of patients, to questions around whether this drug or combination of drugs will be effective for the patient”.

Seiler echoed these sentiments, particularly the evolution of cancer therapeutics in which we aim to target the cancer itself, and the turning point of about ten years ago where scientists began engaging the immune system for controlling homeostasis within individual tissues and organs. He reflected on what is most exciting about the current work being carried out in the field, noting that this turning point is addressing control mechanisms in human physiology that are enabled by these different therapeutic interventions to help control and eliminate tumour development. He said: “This has a compound effect on the research and development industry to build models that are more effective at elucidating the biological pathways necessary for those therapeutics to be successful, and that’s a call to action… that we’ve heard at Taconic Biosciences, where animal models need to complement the evolution of these new drug paradigms.”

The rest of the panel discussion included comments on how immunotherapies have emerged as a promising treatment for certain sets of cancers, but how they have their own inherent challenges. Looking towards the future, we must ensure that these treatments are brought to the broadest set of patients possible, as well as gain insight on the importance of diagnostic methods in helping move forward the holistic precision medicine approach we often hear talked about.

Innovating preclinical models in immuno-oncology

The panel discussion was followed by a presentation by Seiler on innovating preclinical models for reliability and reproducibility in immuno-oncology research. In his presentation, he went through some of the work being carried out by Taconic Biosciences, including the company’s full range of mouse and rat-related products serving every stage of drug discovery and basic research.

Moreover, he shared the impact that the right animal model solutions can have on drug discovery and advancements in human health by driving critical research from ideas to cure.

He further elaborated on the key elements of controlling animal model production on a global scale, including maintaining inbred colonies for global consistency across multiple production locations.

He said: “It is necessary for us to harmonise through a foundational paradigm”. He unpacked Taconic Biosciences’ syngeneic models for oncology research, the CIEA NOG mouse, as well as the NOG portfolio of super- immunodeficient mice. A recent expansion to the NOG portfolio includes the FcResolv mouse model, which has Fc gamma receptors (FcyRs) knocked out. He further demonstrated how these models are critical for advancing drug discovery, with ample data to illustrate throughout.

Cancer vaccines

Seiler’s presentation was followed by Qasim Ahmad, CMO of IO Biotech, who presented on cancer vaccines as the next frontier in immuno-oncology.

The company’s lead therapeutic cancer vaccine candidate is currently being evaluated in a Phase III study for melanoma, and Ahmad elaborated on how the vaccine is designed to target and directly kill both tumour cells and well-known immune- suppressive cells.

He further expanded on IO Biotech’s strategy, including leveraging first mover advantage in melanoma and the expansion to other cancer types, as well as the company’s approach to translating its science to clinical outcomes for patients as a whole.

Getting to market faster

Ahmad’s presentation in the summit was followed by another from Andreas Dreps, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Science, and Muaiad Kittaneh, Senior Director at ICON. The two discussed key research strategies to get to market faster.

The presentation covered challenges in ADC development, delivering next-generation ADCs, to relevant FDA projects and leveraging regulatory designations.

Innovation in the fight against cancer

The presentation from Dreps and Kittaneh was followed by Joseph Peterson. Peterson is one of the founding members of CancerX, a new US public- private partnership to boost innovation in the fight against cancer, and he spoke about unlocking novel cancer insights with multi-scale data integration.

His presentation covered topics such as why current approaches are not delivering on the needed insights, and explained the benefits of using multiplexed immunofluorescence in drug development. Moreover, he shared a use case of a Phase I clinical trial, including results, data, and the challenges involved.

Antibody discovery

The final presentation was given by Dr Raffi Tonikian, Director of Translational Biomarkers at AbCellera. The company works with some of the most influential companies in the drug discovery space, pushing antibody discovery programmes forward, and his presentation covered early integration of biomaker- driven approaches for bispecific development.

In his presentation, he provided insight into how the intensity of T-cell activation impacts activity, including details on commonly used CD3-binders such as SP34-2 which have affinities that limit their therapeutic use. Moreover, he shared data on assay screens of in vitro biomarkers at high-throughput.

Watch on demand

If you were not able to attend the DDW Turning Science Into Business Summit, sponsored by Taconic Biosciences, you can now watch on demand.

DDW Volume 25 – Issue 1, Winter 2023/2024

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