Breaking from the herd

New advances in PD-1 combinations, sarcoma treatments and nucleotides at ASCO

Behind the block of clinical studies on PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors, researchers are casting aside their herd mentality with a wide net of strategies to solve some of the most pressing problems in oncology, such as how to turn cold tumors hot, how to deploy new modalities and how to broaden responsiveness to immunotherapies.

BioCentury’s third annual survey of abstracts at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting presents a snapshot of clinical research in cancer, according to a machine learning-based analysis of 3,444 abstracts for mentions of products, indications, targets, modalities or other specialized terms.

This year’s analysis documents six novel targets and nine products in first-in-human trials presented at the meeting.

It shows use of cell therapies not only is broadening in indications, but also is higher in solid tumors collectively than blood cancers, based on abstract mentions. Moreover, cell therapy representation now matches that of vaccines, and both are up over last year, with 56 and 57 abstracts, respectively, compared with 19 and 33 in 2017 (see “New Modalities at ASCO 2018”).

Figure: New modalities at ASCO 2018

The top figure shows cell therapies challenging vaccines for first place among new modalities mentioned in abstracts at the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting. At ASCO 2017, vaccines were mentioned nearly twice as often as cell therapies.

Cell therapies bumped antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) from second to third place compared with last year. While nucleic acids were mentioned nearly as often as ADCs, the former were more often employed as research tools to screen for targets or biomarkers. ADCs were mentioned almost exclusively in a therapeutic context.

The bottom figure shows that, in total, cell therapies were mentioned more often in abstracts concerning solid tumors than those concerning blood cancers. However, the greatest number of mentions by individual tumor type were in lymphoma and leukemia, where CAR T cell therapies are approved.

Modalities were identified using a text search of abstracts assigned to any of ASCO’s presentation tracks related to clinical, preclinical or basic research. The vaccine category includes DNA, neoantigen, peptide and RNA vaccines. The nucleic acid category includes antisense oligonucleotides, siRNA, shRNA, microRNA, long noncoding RNA (lncRNA) and

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