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Recapping ASCO20: The Next Horizons in Immunotherapy

June 04, 2020

In the last weekend of May, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) held its 56th Annual Meeting. Although the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the physical proceedings, the cancer world came together virtually to share important advances in the oncology space.

New results revealed more of checkpoint immunotherapy’s benefits in a variety of cancer types, including those that have already been shown to be responsive to immunotherapy, plus others that appear to respond to combination strategies.

In lung cancer, dual PD-1 and CTLA-4 immunotherapy continued to confer a significant long-term survival advantage compared to chemotherapy. The combination also helped melanoma patients who didn’t respond to PD-1 blockade alone, and helped patients with resectable disease when given prior to surgery. An analysis of self-reacting antibodies—against tumor-related and autoimmune-related targets—identified links to treatment outcomes and side effects, and pointed toward the potential of tests to predict these consequences in patients.

With respect to genitourinary cancers of the kidneys and bladder, checkpoint immunotherapy continues to be a promising option in a variety of settings. Both alone and in combination with standard-of-care treatment for patients, checkpoint immunotherapy proved helpful for patients with advanced renal cell cancer, and the combination approach demonstrated that it should be considered the new maintenance standard in advanced urothelial cancer.

In sarcoma, combining immunotherapy with radiation prior to surgery led to extensive clinical activity in patients, and alone led to durable responses in colorectal cancer patients with high microsatellite instability (MSI-high). There was also data to support the use of immunotherapy for patients with cancers of unknown primary origin, treatment of which could benefit from genomic testing moving forward.

Promising advances in cellular immunotherapies were also highlighted, including a BCMA-targeting CAR T cell therapy against relapsed and refractory multiple myeloma as well as an off-the-shelf CAR T cell therapy targeting CD19 in a small trial for patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Two engineered T cell receptor (TCR) therapies that led to responses in multiple patients with solid cancers were also featured: one for HPV-associated cancers as well as another molecule—a cancer-testis antigen—found in a variety of solid cancer types.

Important data regarding bispecific antibodies, a type of immunotherapy that can be designed both to target tumors and engage the immune system, were also unveiled in trials for multiple myeloma and HER2-positive cancers, whereas a cancer vaccine made of patients’ own tumor cells provided relief for several patients in another study.

Lastly, the cancer community provided an update on COVID-19, both how it is affecting the cancer world and how the medical community is responding. Despite the impact on cancer clinical trials, a new collaborative effort—the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19)—has begun collecting and compiling data from coronavirus-infected cancer patients across the U.S., while the National Cancer Institute is in the process of organizing and launching its own nationwide effort to better understand and address the risks faced by these patients.

For more details from our ASCO20 coverage, be sure to check out our first and second daily updates, and of course follow along and engage with our full roster of Cancer Immunotherapy Month events throughout the month of June! You can also follow us on social media with the hashtag #CIM20 to join in the conversation and help spread the word about lifesaving cancer immunotherapy research.

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*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.

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