ASCO 2019: What we learned

Conference Edition | June​ 5,​ 2019

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Editor's Note


The American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting provides a stage for cancer's largest clinical studies. This year, one of the smallest stole the show.

Across 10 patients with advanced lung cancer, a drug from Amgen shrunk tumors in five. What's so noteworthy is Amgen's study enrolled patients whose cancers were spurred by mutations in an oncogene called KRAS, considered the "holy grail" of cancer R&D.

Taking aim at mutations like KRAS has become a foundational approach to treating many cancers, and some of the top-selling drugs are targeted therapies. Putting KRAS in reach would cap decades of research advances that have led to drugs like Loxo Oncology's Vitrakvi.

"Targeted therapies move the bar so high for some subsets," said Alice Shaw, director of thoracic oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "It's great to see that extending to other patients as well."

That's only part of the story, though. "Targeting any single mutation almost all the time results in disease relapse and you have to find another drug," James Allison, noted cancer researcher and recent Nobel Prize winner, told ASCO attendees Monday. "Immunotherapy's different."

Allison has an interest in that take, having made discoveries that resulted in Bristol-Myers Squibb's Yervoy, but his comments illustrate why drugmakers are spending billions in immuno-oncology research. This year's ASCO is another reminder of how both approaches are needed.

Ned Pagliarulo
Senior Editor, BioPharma Dive
overheard bubble

Overheard at the show

"It's only 10 patients, but KRAS has been the most undruggable and difficult target we've had in this disease."
– Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at the Yale Cancer Center, on why Amgen's early-stage drug AMG 510 excites

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overheard bubble

Parting thought

Bispecifics and cell therapy didn't feature in our ASCO coverage. But dozens of abstracts detailing early research in both areas suggest next year could see much more.