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ASH 2016: Tackling Blood Cancers with Immunotherapy

December 01, 2016

This Saturday, the 58th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology will begin in San Diego, where the latest advances in research for blood cancers including leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma will be highlighted during the four days of talks and poster presentations.

The 58th Annual Meeting of the American Society of HematologyLeading up to the meeting, there seems to be significant buzz around the preliminary results of Kite Pharma’s ZUMA-1 trial with KTE-C19, which used anti-CD19 CAR T cells to treat patients with B cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma. Although only six patients have been treated thus far, the work was approved as one of the “late-breaking” abstracts because all six patients thus far have responded to the therapy. Results from five more patients will be revealed at the conference.

Other promising results involving KTE-C19 showed that, at least for relapsed and refractory leukemia patients, these patient-specific anti-CD19 CAR T cells can be produced safely, reliably, and quickly for treatments. Reproducible manufacturing had previously been a concern for these products.

Data involving patients treated with CAR T cells will also be presented, including work by Drs. Michel Sadelain and Marcel van den Brink, who are both members of the CVC Scientific Advisory Committee of the Cancer Research Institute and Ludwig Cancer Research. Here, they showed that donor anti-CD19 CAR T were capable of attacking leukemia without causing graft-versus-host disease (GvHD).

Furthermore, work by Dr. Carl June, a member of our Scientific Advisory Council, showed that anti-CD19 CAR T cells are also effective for follicular lymphoma patients who have poor prognosis, or are relapsed or refractory to other therapies.

Aside from CAR T cells, results from studies of checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapies in these blood cancers will also be presented. As of now, the only checkpoint inhibitor approved for any blood cancer is the anti-PD-1 nivolumab for patients with advanced Hodgkin lymphoma. Follow up work from the same CheckMate 205 trial that led to that initial approval shows that nivolumab was capable of providing relapsed and refractory patients with durable responses.

The combination of nivolumab and the anti-B cell small molecule ibrutinib was also found to be effective for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and Richer transformation. This work was conducted by a group that included Dr. James Allison, director of CRI’s Scientific Advisory Council, and Dr. Padmanee Sharma, a member of the CVC Clinical Trials Network.

Dr. Sharma was also involved in work showing that after stem cell transplantation, the combination of the anti-CTLA-4 checkpoint inhibitor ipilimumab plus lenalidomide enabled clinical responses without causing GvHD in patients with lymphoid malignancies.

All in all, there are 53 separate oral presentations that will cover checkpoint inhibitors, both as single-agent therapies as well as in combinations.

We look forward to following news from ASH and expect that immunotherapy will dominate discussions on the most promising new treatments for patients with blood cancers.

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