Zosia Chustecka

May 23, 2013

Research that embodies "a new era of precision medicine" will be seen at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO®), say experts speaking in advance of the conference, which starts next week in Chicago, Illinois.

With precision medicine, "treatment is no longer determined solely by a cancer's location, but more specifically by the genetics of the patient and the tumor.... We will see how this progressive understanding of cancer is paying off," said outgoing ASCO president Sandra Swain, MD, from the Washington Cancer Institute in Washington, DC.

"We are taking better aim at vital targets on cancer and immune cells," added Bruce Roth, MD, who is chair of ASCO's Cancer Communications Committee.

These more precise ways of attacking the immune system are already creating a buzz. Some pharmaceutical analysts consider immunotherapy as the area that will yield the best-selling drugs of tomorrow.

There are high hopes for the investigational drug nivolumab (Bristol-Myers Squibb), which made headlines at last year's meeting, and has done so again even before this year's meeting has begun. One of the studies released early reports a "truly remarkable response" in metastatic melanoma when nivolumab was used in combination with the already marketed ipilimumab (Yervoy, Bristol Myers Squibb) (abstract 9012). Another study released early reports impressive activity with the investigational agent MPDL3280A (Genentech/Roche) in a number of tumors (abstract 3000).

Packed Sessions

The annual ASCO meeting has become "the foremost international scientific conference on oncology, featuring some of the most leading-edge and practice-changing science," Dr. Swain said. More than 4500 abstracts have been accepted, and more than 30,000 participants are expected.

The plenary session is bound to be packed, as usual, but this year there is a difference. The most important papers will be discussed by several experts in the relevant field after the session in finished. This year's highlights include final results from a phase 3 trial of bevacizumab (Avastin) in the treatment of glioblastoma (abstract 1), which is an approved indication in the United States but not in Europe, and the first presentation of results for bevacizumab in cervical cancer (abstract 3), which is not a licensed indication for this drug — yet.

In addition, the plenary session will feature results of a study conducted in India of a very simple vinegar test for cervical cancer screening (abstract 2) and very long-term results on the use of tamoxifen for the prevention of breast cancer relapse (abstract 5). New results will also be presented for the targeted agent sorafenib (Nexavar) in thyroid cancer (abstract 4); that drug is currently approved for use in kidney and liver cancer.

Hematologic Malignancies

A number of new drugs coming through the development pipeline for the treatment of hematologic malignancies are attracting interest. Among them are idelalisib (GS-1101, Gilead) a first-in-class agent for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (abstract 7003), and the new anti-CD20 antibody conjugate obinutuzumab (Genentech), which is also being tested in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (abstract 7004). This product is a follow-on from the company's original anti-CD20 agent, the best-selling rituximab (MabThera), and has been "glyco-optimized to show improved antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity and direct cytotoxicity," according to the manufacturer. It has already filed for approval in both the United States and Europe.


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