ASCO 2018 Preview: Precision Medicine, CAR T Cells and Immunomodulators

CAR T cells and combination trials continue to be the talk of the town.

More than 32,000 oncology professionals will soon gather in Chicago for the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. This year’s meeting, with a theme of “Delivering Discoveries: Expanding the Reach of Precision Medicine,” promises to be the most exciting yet because researchers are further unraveling the different mechanisms by which cancer starts, grows and metastasizes, as well as how the immune system responds to it.

This progress is ushering in a new era of precision medicine, according to Wim Souverijns, Corporate Vice President of Global Marketing for Hematology & Oncology at Celgene. Much of the research Celgene will present at this year’s meeting includes updates on its chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy platforms, as well new data related its investigational pipeline across hematologic malignancies and solid tumors.

CAR T Cell Data Continue to Roll In

One area of personalized medicine with incredible potential in cancer is CAR T cell technology. This process involves a patient’s immune cells being collected, modified in a laboratory to recognize cancer cells and reinfused to attack the cancer.

At this year’s ASCO meeting, Souverijns is looking forward to seeing longer-term safety and outcome data for several clinical trials involving investigational CAR T cell therapies in relapsed or refractory patients with difficult to treat blood cancers like multiple myeloma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

While these therapies come with great promise, their safety profile needs to be properly characterized to ensure appropriate use of these therapies, Souverijns explains. At ASCO he expects further insights about particular side effects such as cytokine release syndrome (CRS) and neurotoxicity.

“These longer-term data will help us to better understand these effects and how to manage them,” he said. “This will be crucial to realize the promise of these investigational treatments for patients.”

Three years ago, most patients were getting doublets, and people were questioning the need for triplets. Today, people are talking about quadruplets.

CAR T beyond Blood Cancers

The big hope is that CAR T cell therapies will be able to go beyond hematological malignancies and effectively target solid tumors as well. Preclinical data of CAR T cell therapies in solid tumors are emerging. The challenge, though, is that solid tumors often aren’t responsive to treatment simply because therapies physically can’t reach the tumor.

“CAR T also holds promise in solid tumors, but it’s going to be a much harder nut to crack from a technological and scientific perspective than with blood cancers,” Souverijns said. “The integration of Juno’s recently acquired CAR T cell science powerhouse with Celgene’s deep disease and cellular therapy expertise provides a great opportunity with these new investigational technologies for cancer patients.”

AT THIS YEAR’S AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CLINICAL ONCOLOGY MEETING, ATTENDEES WILL DISCUSS ADVANCES IN CANCER RESEARCH, INCLUDING ADVANCES IN CAR T CELL THERAPY AND COMBINATION THERAPIES BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF IMMUNOMODULATORS.

AT THIS YEAR’S AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CLINICAL ONCOLOGY MEETING, ATTENDEES WILL DISCUSS ADVANCES IN CANCER RESEARCH, INCLUDING ADVANCES IN CAR T CELL THERAPY AND COMBINATION THERAPIES BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF IMMUNOMODULATORS.

Triplets Becoming More Common in Multiple Myeloma

At last year’s ASCO conference, clinicians saw data combining immunomodulators with other therapies to treat diseases like multiple myeloma. Souverijns expects to see even more data from trials this year testing combination therapies. While these combinations used to focus on later lines of treatment when patients have exhausted other options, the new data are showing options for earlier patient segments as well.

More seems like it may be better as more triplet therapies are being approved and utilized, while even quadruplets are being tested now. This is something he expects will be discussed at length at the conference as doctors are realizing that adding new therapies to the foundation of an immunomodulator may drive better outcomes.

“Three years ago, most patients were getting doublets, and people were questioning the need for triplets,” Souverijns said. “Today, people are talking about quadruplet therapy. It’s amazing how quickly cancer care is progressing, making each ASCO more extraordinary than the last.”

For all the potential advancements, Celgene’s Vice President, U.S. Medical Affairs Teng Jin Ong, M.D., pointed to precision medicine at this year’s conference.

“Our increasing insight into the biology of cancer drives the discovery of new therapies that are targeting very specific cancer mutations and allow for greater improvements in outcomes for patients with such mutations,” said Dr. Ong. “We’ll remember 2018 as the tipping point for precision medicine and showing how it could work in practice.

To learn more about how CAR T cells may help immune cells identify cancer cells, read “Revealing Cancer Cells to the Immune System.”