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Updates From Our 2013 Academic-Industry Colloquium

April 30, 2013 | Alexandra Mulvey

Because the immune system is highly sophisticated and complex, immunotherapies that aim to harness its power to conquer cancer must try to be as much so. This requires the combination of different treatments, each targeting a different component or pathway of the immune system (for an overview of the different components of the immune system, see our What is Cancer Immunotherapy? infographic). These include vaccines to stimulate cancer antigen-specific responses, stimulants to activate or enhance the immune response, and immune modulators to sustain anti-cancer immunity. With approximately 1,000 different immune-based treatments in development—and with the emerging knowledge that certain standard therapies, such as chemotherapies, targeted therapies, and radiation, may have immunologic properties that enhance the effects of immunotherapy—the number of potential combinations is literally endless.

Although the plethora of possibilities is daunting, it was gratifying to see so many scientists, companies, and other stakeholders taking creative and systematic approaches to developing combination treatments at the 2013 Scientific Colloquium of CRI’s Cancer Immunotherapy Consortium, which took place Thursday, April 25, to Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Washington, D.C. This year’s Colloquium, titled “Entering the Era of Combination Therapies: Practical Implementation,” featured nearly 40 speakers presenting on new strategies, tools, and preclinical and clinical results that are guiding the rational development of new combination treatments and helping to accelerate the path forward.

A common theme throughout the meeting was the combination of immunotherapies with standard treatments. Dr. Guido Kroemer from the Institut Gustave-Roussy in France, delivered the keynote address, “Immunochemotherapy: A plea for combination treatments,” on Thursday morning, suggesting that traditional chemotherapies may have broad capacities to induce or enhance anti-tumor immunity and that, properly combined, chemotherapies and immunotherapies may have great synergistic potential.

Dr. Ira Mellman of Genentech (also a member of CRI’s Scientific Advisory Council) carried on this theme in his presentation on preclinical and clinical work with MPDL3280A, an antibody being developed by Genentech that blocks the PD-L1 immune checkpoint molecule. In laboratory studies, his colleagues tested the antibody in combination with several different kinds of targeted therapies and chemotherapies in different cancer models and found highly diverse responses depending on the therapy type and model used. He underscored that these combinations should be more fully characterized in preclinical studies to understand the mechanisms by which two agents have antagonistic or synergistic effects in order to optimize rational combinations in the clinic.

Many presenters also discussed ways to modulate the type and quality of immune responses to improve outcomes, such as using different kinds of vectors for cancer vaccine delivery to create more optimal T cell types (Dr. Charles Drake, Johns Hopkins University), combining treatments with immunotherapies that deplete regulatory T cells (Dr. Hiroyoshi Nishikawa, Osaka University); improving natural killer (NK) cell responses to monoclonal antibody treatment with antibodies against the CD137 immune checkpoint molecule, aka 4-1BB (Dr. Holbrook Kohrt, Stanford University School of Medicine); and using different methods to condition T cells outside of the body to improve their efficacy against cancer cells after adoptive transfer (Dr. Protul Shrikant, Roswell Park Cancer Institute; Dr. Cassian Yee, MD Anderson Cancer Center).

There was also a session devoted to some of the regulatory and financial issues that may help facilitate or hinder combination immunotherapy development and delivery to patients.

For more information about the meeting, you can access the abstract book on the 2013 CIC Consortium page.

Many thanks to our platinum meeting sponsor Bristol-Myers Squibb, gold sponsors Lilly USA, LLC, MedImmune, and Regeneron, bronze sponsor ViracorIBT Laboratories, and additional sponsor AgonOx.

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