Noted This Week
Cancer-related news briefs by week
February 10, 2017
- The NCI launched the NCTN/NCORP Data Archive, a centralized repository of deidentified patient-level data from phase III studies carried out by trial groups affiliated with the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN) and NCI’s Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP). “Greater sharing of research data underlies much of the thinking behind the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot and the initiatives emerging from it,” the agency noted, and the new database “is building on and contributing to this momentum.”
- The FDA gave French biopharmaceutical company Cellectis the go-ahead to begin phase I evaluations of its universal CAR T-cell therapy, UCART123, in patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm. These CD123-targeting cells have been gene-edited, using TALEN, so they can be given to multiple patients without the need for donor–recipient matching. This is the first “off-the-shelf” CAR T-cell product to gain FDA approval for clinical trials, which will be led by Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, NY, and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
- The nonprofit Chan Zuckerberg (CZ) Biohub selected its first cohort of 47 investigators from three institutions: University of California, Berkeley; University of California, San Francisco; and Stanford University in Palo Alto. Each will receive a 5-year appointment and up to $1.5 million for life science research in their areas of expertise, ranging from biology to physics. These funds will be unrestricted, to spur the pursuit of creative, high-risk projects aimed at helping the CZ Biohub achieve its founders’ goal of “curing, preventing, or managing every disease in our children’s lifetime.”
- A phase II trial of the investigational immune checkpoint inhibitor lirilumab (Innate Pharma) failed to demonstrate clinical efficacy in AML. Among 150 elderly patients randomly assigned to receive lirilumab or placebo, leukemia-free survival and other efficacy endpoints were not statistically different between the study arms. France-based Innate is partnering with Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) to develop lirilumab, which targets the KIR2DL receptor family; the drug will continue to be evaluated in combination with BMS’s PD-1 inhibitor nivolumab (Opdivo) against several other cancers.
- GW Pharmaceuticals reported positive results from its phase II trial evaluating two cannabis-derived drugs against recurrent glioblastoma multiforme. The London, UK-based company assessed the combination of tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol (THC:CBD) in 21 patients being treated with temozolomide for their disease, who were randomly assigned to receive THC:CBD or placebo as add-on therapy. The 1-year survival rate was 83% among those given the cannabinoid combination, versus 53% in the control arm.
- According to Fierce Biotech, Eli Lilly plans to cut 200 research and development jobs globally. This move has been framed as a “voluntary reallocation program” in which the company will seek out staffers willing to leave of their own volition. A spokesperson stated that Eli Lilly also plans to increase hiring in strategic areas, including immunology, across its United States research sites; Fierce Biotech noted that given the current political climate, “there is value in being seen to be on board with the ‘America First’ approach, particularly as it relates to jobs.”
February 3, 2017
- Six scientific and medical organizations, including the American Association for Cancer Research, called on the Trump administration to consider the negative impact of denying people from seven countries entry to the United States. “We remain deeply concerned that restricting travel will prohibit participation in scientific meetings, where cutting-edge science and treatment methods are often first introduced,” they said. The order will also limit international collaborations, they noted, and “any loss of researchers and physicians will render the U.S. less competitive over time.”
- President Trump’s proposal to slash regulations around drug development had a mixed reception. According to FierceBiotech, one lawmaker expressed concern that Trump “would consider putting the profits of pharmaceutical corporations ahead of safety.” PhRMA and BIO, however, appeared more upbeat about removing “outdated regulations that drive up costs and slow innovation,” estimating that limiting regulation could create 350,000 jobs over the next decade.
- The House Committee on Energy and Commerce asked President Trump to clarify the potential impact of a federal hiring freeze on the FDA. Noting that the Cures Act, signed into law last December, includes provisions to assist the FDA in recruiting and retaining new scientific and technical staff, the committee queried whether this hiring authority would now be frozen, and, if yes, why. “Hamstringing the ability of our most critical public health agency to hire the personnel needed will hamper the FDA’s ability to fulfill its mission,” they concluded.
- Guardant Health announced a multiyear partnership with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, aimed at making comprehensive liquid biopsy a standard part of cancer care. The company will help MD Anderson build multiple liquid biopsy centers to speed the development of novel noninvasive assays using Guardant’s Digital Sequencing technology.
- Roughly 9.9% of patients with colorectal cancer harbor germline cancer susceptibility gene mutations, researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. This prevalence is higher than expected: Until now, physicians have focused on patients with hereditary Lynch syndrome (LS), about 3% in all, who are known to be at high risk for colorectal cancer. Germline mutations were found in non-LS genes, notably BRCA1/2; the researchers concluded that genetic factors underlying this disease “extend beyond well-recognized familial syndromes and are markedly more common than previously appreciated.”
- According to a Nature Medicine study, although Ewing sarcomas share a DNA methylation signature, they also exhibit considerable epigenetic heterogeneity. Examining 140 samples of this bone cancer, the researchers observed consistent hypomethylation around EWS–FLI1, the fusion oncogene that marks this disease. Additionally, they reported epigenetic variation among tumors that fell along a continuum between mesenchymal and stem cell signatures; this heterogeneity was particularly pronounced in patients with metastatic disease.
Cancer Discovery Editorial Office
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