Localizing next-generation sequencing testing for cancer patients

Output from a DNA sequencer. [Image courtesy of National Human Genome Research Institute]

The concept of “locality” differentiates a business or company and conveys its value. Phrases like “shop local,” “locally sourced” or “local place” demonstrate the importance of something that doesn’t require significant time, travel or expense, offers convenience and is trustworthy. Locality breeds familiarity and comfort, particularly in healthcare, where it can heavily influence decisions. Patients trust local physicians. Those physicians have faith in local laboratories where they conduct tests and send samples for analysis. The ability to say something is “local” is important in healthcare decisions because time and resources are minimized when consultations, procedures, and tests are done in familiar venues, in close proximity to patients.

For people battling cancer, the concept of locality is essential. Local oncolog…

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Why research on hematologic malignancies is ramping up

Micrograph of a plasmacytoma, a hematological malignancy. [Image courtesy of Wikipedia]

Oncology has benefited from a wave of advances in recent decades. From 1991 to 2018, the age-adjusted overall cancer death rate dropped 31%, according to an analysis from American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). That death rate dropped 2.4% between 2017 and 2018, marking the most significant annual reduction.

The reasons for such improvements are multifaceted, including falling smoking rates, improved diagnosis and more effective drugs.

The popularity of immunotherapy has played a vital role in improving treatment outcomes of certain cancers. “It is amazing to think about how much immunotherapy has changed the practice of oncology,” recently wrote Dr. John M. Burke in Targeted Oncology. Burke, a hematologist and medical oncologist at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, said data from the past two decades…

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How Mission Bio is working to drive precision medicine

[Image courtesy of Mission Bio]

Mission Bio (San Francisco) is a growth-stage company spun out of the microfluidics lab at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) in 2014.

“We have been commercial since late 2017,” said the company’s CEO, Yan Zhang, in a recent interview.

Initially focusing on oncology, Mission Bio has cast its gaze across precision medicine to cell and gene therapies. “We’re really in this incredible cross-section of oncology and cell and gene therapy,” Zhang said.

The company’s Tapestri platform can simultaneously provide:

Genotype and immunophenotype data from a single cell. Detection of copy number variants (CNV).

Mission Bio has raised $110.9 million to date.

Zhang said that the company aims to “help drug developers take precision medicine to the next level.”

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GSK to purchase biopharma Sierra Oncology for $1.9 billion

GlaxoSmithKline plc (LSE/NYSE:GSK) has reached a deal to acquire Sierra Oncology (Nasdaq:SRRA) to bolster its oncology pipeline.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, GSK would pay $44 per share for a total value of approximately $1.9 billion.

GSK shares were mostly flat in mid-day trading, dipping 0.032% to $46.52. SRRA shares surged 38.31% to $54.66.

Sierra Oncology’s differentiated momelotinib, which inhibits JAK1 and JAK2, offers potential for patients with myelofibrosis, a rare bone marrow cancer. Myelofibrosis can lead to scarring in the bone marrow, thus causing severe anemia.

GSK expects to benefit from sales of momelotinib starting in 2023, with growth ramping up after that.

There is a significant unmet need for patients with myelofibrosis. Roughly 40% of patients diagnosed with myelofibrosis are already anemic, with the majority developing anemia eventually.

Momelotinib has been the subject of 22 clinical trials to date. Read more

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President Biden reboots Cancer Moonshot project 

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

In 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden announced a Cancer Moonshot initiative to speed the development of new therapies to treat cancer.

Biden is now launching a new initiative committed to improving the cancer survival rate by at least 50% by 2047. The plan also aims to improve the quality of life for patients with cancer.

“We can end cancer as we know it,” Biden said in an announcement introducing the initiative.

Biden named Dr. Danielle Carnival as the White House Cancer Moonshot coordinator. Carnival is currently the senior advisor to the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

One of the short-term goals of the initiative will be to bolster cancer screening rates, which have plummeted during the pandemic.

Biden seeks to form a Cancer Cabinet with officials from a range of government offices.

Biden als…

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Radiomics: The present and future of advanced imaging analytics

Radiomics image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Radiomics, or the science of advanced imaging analytics, is an emerging field that promises more personalized care, improved clinical decision support and greater efficiency in clinical trials. 

Radiomics are being used to discover new biomarkers, improve the accuracy of diagnosis, predict the risk of disease and likelihood of treatment response, and identify clinical endpoints.

Today, much of the focus in radiomics has been in oncology. However, radiomics applies to other clinical areas and is being used today in several clinical domains. Radiomic data are a key component of a “multi-omics” approach to medicine, in which radiomic data is combined with data sets from other sources such as genomic and clinical data. Adding more robust phenotype data to these data fabric will present clinicians with synergistic information in which the whole is greater than …

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AbbVie, University of Chicago lengthen oncology research partnership until 2025

AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) has extended an agreement with the University of Chicago related to collaborative preclinical oncology research.

The North Chicago, Illinois–based company and the university are working together on research involving biomarkers and therapeutic applications related to existing AbbVie programs.

In the past, the organizations have also explored new drug delivery methods to improve the immune system’s ability to fight tumors. Their partnership has also focused on testing 3D screening methodologies for selecting promising therapeutic molecules.

Under the terms of the agreement, AbbVie can exclusively license some University of Chicago discoveries resulting from the collaboration.

“Our oncology collaboration with the University of Chicago enables us to combine our expertise in understanding the underlying biology in key areas of interest, such as immuno-oncology, oncogenic pathways, and biomarkers of drug sensitivity or disease,” Ste…

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Takeda plans to acquire GammaDelta for its solid tumor drug pipeline

Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd. (TSE:4502/NYSE:TAK) is moving forward with its plan to acquire its collaborator GammaDelta Therapeutics Ltd. (London).

The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions. Takeda projects that the deal will close in the first quarter of its fiscal year, which will end on June 30, 2022.

The acquisition would bolster Takeda’s immuno-oncology and immunotherapy portfolio, given GammaDelta’s experience working with gamma delta (γδ) T cells as potential therapies for solid tumors hematological malignancies.

GammaDelta had developed allogeneic variable delta 1 (Vδ1) gamma-delta (γδ) T cell therapy platforms. Those platforms encompass blood-derived and tissue-derived cells.

“We’re committed to developing cell therapies that will have an impact on large segments of patients by focusing on off-the-shelf, allogeneic cell therapies that are highly accessible and have the potential to address solid tumors,” Christopher…

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SimBioSys secures $15 million in Series A funding for computational oncology software

The developer of a cloud-based application for oncology care and research, SimBioSys, has raised $15 million in Series A funding. Genoa Ventures and Northpond Ventures led the funding round, which also involved AV8 Ventures, Heritage Medical Group, and Mayo Clinic.

SimBioSys also announced that existing investors and its founders participated in the financing, raising a total of $21 million.

The company plans on using the funds for the development and commercialization of its TumorScope software platform. In particular, the company plans on using the funding to digitize and model treatment options for a number of solid tumors, including in breast cancer.

TumorScope is a cloud-based application that virtualizes cancer in three dimensions. The company reports that it can accurately simulate how a patient’s tumor will respond to a variety of therapies following diagnosis. “Simulating a response before prescribing treatment is a significant stride in p…

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Merck and Vesselon preclinical study reports dramatic tumor pharmacokinetics findings

Merck & Co. (NSDQ:MRNA) scientists have explored fighting cancer by way of the STING (stimulator of interferon genes)-controlled innate immune pathway.

Now, the company has published research in Advanced Therapeutics detailing a preclinical study with its partner Vesselon Inc. that reported impressive pharmacokinetics results related to MSA-1, a STING agonist.

The researchers found that low intravenous doses of MSA-1 alone did not have anti-tumor properties. But pairing MSA-1 with Vesselon’s FDA-approved acoustically-active drug Imagent led to complete tumor regressions. Vesselon makes use of a phenomenon known as sonoporation, which involves a temporary opening of cell membranes as a result of ultrasound exposure.

Imagent is FDA approved as a contrast agent for diagnostic ultrasound.

Specifically, Merck scientists reported that sonoporation dramatically improved the pharmacokinetics of MSA-1, boosting tumor uptake 658% 15 minutes after …

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How Lilly Oncology is aiming to improve clinical trial diversity

Minorities tend to participate in clinical trials at far lower rates than their real-world demographics and prevalence of the disease, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. In addition, minorities often have worse outcomes for certain cancers than the broader public. For instance, the mortality rate for Black women with breast cancer is 40% higher than that of white women.

The pandemic, however, has highlighted persistent health disparities while offering potential strategies for improvement, according to Amy Davis, senior director of clinical development at Lilly Oncology.

The pandemic has popularized the use of decentralized trials. For instance, Lilly debuted decentralized capabilities in a recent breast cancer trial and will continue doing so for upcoming trials. “We are building in decentralized capabilities from the get-go — decreasing the number of in-person visits by half,” Davis said. The company is using remote data capture and offer…

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Hookipa Pharma announces oncology partnership with Merck

Immunotherapy-specialist Hookipa Pharma (NSDQ:HOOK) has announced a clinical collaboration and supply agreement with Merck (NYSE:MRK). Hookipa will test its immunotherapeutic HB-200 in conjunction with Merck’s blockbuster anti-PD-1 therapy, Keytruda (pembrolizumab), as first-line treatment for patients with advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

Last year, Merck raked in $14.5 billion in sales revenue from Keytruda.

“There remains considerable unmet treatment need for people with metastatic head and neck cancers, and we believe the combination of HB-200 and Keytruda may offer hope,” said Joern Aldag, Hookipa CEO, in a statement.

Hookipa reports that the company has seen early success with combining Keytruda and HB-200 in heavily pre-treated patients.

The company plans on launching a Phase 2 trialing the combination of HB-200 with Keytruda in 2022.

The company is developing a range of novel arenaviral immunotherapies for onc…

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