Saturday, December 31, 2011

OncoBrands We Used to Know in 2011

Oncology is one island where biotech investment continues in the sea of shrinking biopharma.  As expected, the current environment is also conducive to oncology biotech companies being lost to mergers and acquisitions.  Sadly, these carefully crafted and nurtured brands will be lost for ever!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Pubs Serving Oncology News in Pints

Where to go for happenings in oncology - What’s on Tap!
These are some of my oncology pubs serving ales and lagers:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

Merry Christmas to all readers of this blog!

It is the time to believe in things, such as, hope, love and compassion, that makes us "human."  It is the time to recall the letter to Virginia, "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Deploying Immunotherapeutic Drones for Cancer

Nearly six scores ago, a Westfield, Connecticut, based bone surgeon, William Coley, injected a mixture of dead Streptococcus pyrogens and dead Serratia marcescens bacteria (called Coley's vaccine or Coley's toxins) in patients' tumors and obtained a near-complete remission.  Nearly a quarter century after his death, the powerful immune stimulant in Coley's vaccine was identified as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) in 1968.  Today, there is a renewed interest in Coley's approach and the immunotherapeutic strategies to control cancer.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top Cancer News Stories of 2011

(posted Dec 23rd, 2011)

Today's is the 40th anniversary of Pres. Nixon's War on Cancer (pbs, wsj).  It must be one of the longest running battles in the US history.  But, now Harold Varmus, Director of the National Cancer Institute, thinks that it is time to change the metaphor: Cancer is neither a single enemy nor a war (wsjblog).  While this "war" has consumed trillions of dollars and changed the face of cancer into a "chronic" and manageable condition, somehow, the word "cancer" did not make it to the top ten searched terms this year.  Google Zeitgeist (US) 2011  lists Steve Jobs and two of Apple's creations, iPhone5 and iPad2 among the top ten.  The rest is showbiz.  Just five years ago, "cancer" was number three on the Google News top searches (see here). 

For those who think about cancer, here are the top cancer news stories of the year 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Midline Carcinoma, a Cancer Without a Cure: No More

An extremely rare and "almost always" fatal midline carcinoma effects just 20-40 individuals per year and there are about 200 people with this cancer in the US.  It typically originates in the "midline" regions of the body, such as nose, mouth and sinuses in the head; trachea in the neck; upper airways, chest and thymus in the mediastinum.  It effects children and adults, alike.

Since midline carcinoma cells are undifferentiated or poorly differentiated, this cancer is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.  Diagnosis occurs upon chromosomal analysis and a discovery of a chromosomal rearrangement fusing a gene called NUT to a bromodomain gene BRD4.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

28% of Phase III Failures are in Oncology Trials

John Arrowsmith of Thomson Reuters, who described these numbers in a Nature Reviews Drug Discovery article, listed three major reasons for Phase III failures in oncology:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

MDV1300 Making a Mark While Provenge Takes a Deep Plunge

Today San Francisco-based Medivation, Inc., ($MDVN) saw its stock value scale El Capitan within a day.  This coming on the heels of Dendreon Corp. ($DNDN) losing a huge chunk of its stock value yesterday is a good example of human psychology.  We reward "optimism" over "cautious behavior."  

Monday, October 31, 2011

How the Evil Doctor Doofenshmirtz is Bringing Cancer Metabolic Addiction to the Tri-State Area

A Senior VP of a Bay Area cancer biotech's R&D recently gave a spin to an old saying and commented, “the beatings will continue until the patient body's morale will improve,” and he added, “the beating will now come through cancer cell metabolism."  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cancer Fundraising and Advocacy: Audience Matters

Yesterday, Philadelphia Flyers' fans booed a public service advertisement sponsored by NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer.  The advertisement aired during the game was to solicit donations for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Friday, September 30, 2011

1000 Genomes, Clan Genomics and Cancer Biomarkers

The publication of human genome blueprint in 2000 was a great block party, summer Olympics coming to town, but the next morning saw most revelers picking up their drunken selves and going back to their old day jobs.  Some kept the flames burning by taking up more and more sequencing of whatever came their way labeled as a model organism.  The human genome blueprint was like a great idea which won a patent but still needed a lot of development work to morph into a cool product.

Post-human genome project

The launching of the 1000 Genomes Project in January 2008 was a true effort to translate the human genome blueprint into something that can really impact clinical practice and health care on a national scale.  The 1000 Genome Project was designed to sequence and catalog genetic variations from different ethnic groups across the globe.  The results of the pilot phase were published in Nature last year.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Shaping Cancer Diagnosis: Looking at the Horizon of Next Generation Sequencing and Targeted Resequencing

Two articles in this week's issue of Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News reviewed recent trends in the next-generation sequencing and targeted resequencing technologies.  These advances are expected to further impact cancer diagnostics and treatment decision-making.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

GNE Video: Understanding Biomarkers

Friday Grand Rounds are back, a day early because Jeff just flew in and can't wait to tell us all about Biomarkers. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seeking Moby Dick Mo-99

Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) is the most used radioactive tracer with over 30 million tests per year done all over the world. When tagged to a pharmaceutical or biological marker, it helps evaluate, diagnose or manage cancer spread, blood flow and cardiac function; brain activity and thyroid disease; and detect osseous metastasis, fractures and infections (bone scan). . . Tc-99m is a metastable isotope of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99). . . Lately, Tc-99m supply chain has come under stress.

(Read the rest of the article and what is being done about the this radiotracer's shortage at maiblog)

(Picture from: Science. 2011 Jan 21;331(6015):277)

Service, R. (2011). Scrambling to Close the Isotope Gap Science, 331 (6015), 277-279 DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6015.277

(Find this post at InternetArchive here)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A glass of CABERNET or MERLOT for a leaky case of AMD

Extract of my guest post at maiBlog, a radiology-focused blog.

"Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in adults over 50 years age. While 90% of AMD patients have the dry-type AMD (atrophic), it is the wet AMD (exudative), driven by choroidal neovascularization (CNV), which is responsible for severe and acute vision loss in over 90% of the patients. Famous people, like the artist Georgia O’Keefe, entertainer Bob Hope and the author Henry Grunwald have coped with AMD. There are over 1.6 million people with AMD in the United States and about 200,000 people are diagnosed with wet AMD every year

One promising approach in late-stage clinical development is the use of beta-radiation to selectively target the proliferating cells in the macular lesion. A small company 40-miles south of San Francisco called NeoVista in Newark, Calif., is at the forefront of testing an epimacular brachytherapy device in the pivotal CABERNET (CNV Secondary AMD Treated with BEta RadiatioN Epiretinal Therapy) Study. ..."

Click here to read full post at maiBlog.

(Find this post at InternetArchive here.)

Related Post:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Four Percent Lung Cancer Solution

A small group of lung cancer patients, who carry EML4-ALK marker in their tumor genome, can now look forward to a cancer-free future, thanks to a new drug crizotinib being developed by Pfizer.  This group of patients are generally nonsmokers or had given up smoking long ago, but still have the misfortune of coming down with lung cancer. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Taking the bite out of second cancer risk attributable to radiotherapy of primary first cancer

 Extract of my guest post at maiBlog, a radiology-focused blog.

"The increasing ranks of cancer survivors have brought new concerns into focus—second primary cancers now account for 18% of all cancer diagnosis and are the third most common cancer diagnosis in US. ... Radiotherapy, while a highly effective cancer treatment option, has long been considered to increase the risk of subsequent cancers, but convincing data had been lacking.  Now, an epidemiological study published by the National Cancer Institute in the April 2011 issue of Lancet Oncology journal shows that 92% of all second cancers are due to causes other than the radiation treatment of previous cancer. ..."

Click here to read full post at maiBlog.

(Find complete post at InternetArchive here.) ___________________________

Complete Post Below:

Over the last forty years, we have made great strides in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of cancer survivors have steadily increased from three million in 1971 to over eleven million today; one in twenty Americans is a cancer survivor. The increasing ranks of cancer survivors have brought new concerns into focus‚Äîsecond primary cancers now account for 18% of all cancer diagnosis and are the third most common cancer diagnosis in US. Similar data is also emerging from other countries. Second primary cancers (a.k.a. second cancers) are new cancers that arise after the first incidence of any cancer. Second cancer may be in the same, surrounding or distant organs, and differ from metastatic cancer which is a result of primary first cancer cells disseminating to a distant organs (see a definition here).
Genetics and lifestyle behaviors, for instance, smoking, alcohol or poor diet, are partly responsible for second cancer, the treatment modalities during first cancer may also have a role. Both chemotherapy and radiotherapy can increase predisposition of other cells to cancer. Radiotherapy, while a highly effective cancer treatment option, has long been considered to increase the risk of subsequent cancers, but convincing data had been lacking. Now, an epidemiological study published by the National Cancer Institute in the April 2011 issue of Lancet Oncology journal shows that 92% of all second cancers are due to causes other than the radiation treatment of previous cancer.
This study relied on a National Cancer Institute resource called US Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) cancer registries. Since 1973, SEER registries have been collecting and reporting data on patient demographics, cancer diagnosis, tumor morphology tumor stage at diagnosis, first-line treatment and follow-up status. There are fifteen SEER registries which cover 28% of the US population from Conn. to Calif. with a racial make-up reflecting the overall US population. The authors analyzed data (collected from nine registries) for 647,672 patients who were 20 years or older (adult) and had been followed for a mean of 12 years since the primary cancer diagnosis. Their analyses included all (i.e., fifteen) solid-cancer sites, and cancers which had appeared after 5 years of first cancer were counted as second cancers. In this analysis, patients who had survived five or more years, nine percent developed second tumors‚Äînot all had received radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy, as part of initial first cancer management included external beam, brachytherapy or a combination of both. There was a variation in the use of radiotherapy across various cancer types. In this cohort, 60-80% of testicular (seminomas), brain, anal and laryngeal cancers were treated with radiotherapy, whereas less than 30% of non-small-cell lung and eye & orbit cancers were managed with radiotherapy. Yet, for every cancer type analyzed, the risk of second cancer was significant (Relative Risk, RR>1); the highest risk was for testicular (34%) and cervical(17%) cancers. However, of all the second cancers, only 8% could be attributed to radiotherapy during first cancer management. This is a much smaller percent than expected, and is a very good news for the radiology community. It helps communicate long-term risk of radiotherapy with respect to the potential benefit of tumor control and patient survival. Furthermore, the overall risk also decreases with time and by 15 years after the first diagnosis, only five excess cancers were found per 1000 cancer survivors.
The strengths of this study were: systemic analysis of all first cancer sites in adults, large population and over three decades of follow-up population data. However, there are some limitations: pediatric populations were excluded, also excluded from the study were patients who survived <5 years, those with hematological cancers, non-seminoma testicular cancers and small-cell lung cancer. The radiotherapy tools and equipment are continuously evolving and new technologies are being adopted. Thus, another look at these statistics will be warranted in coming years. But, for now, radiotherapy must be considered safe and should help professionals address anxiety of patients choosing a radiotherapy option.
This study was led by Amy Berrington de Gonzalez of Radiation Epidemiology Branch of National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, and included researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Institute, Houston, Texas.

Read more about the author, cancer biologist and biotech writer,Ajay K. Malik, PhD

Cancer Survivors‚ÄîUnited States, 2007. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). March 11, 2011;60(9):269-272 | FreeFullText |
de Gonzalez AB, Curtis RE, Kry SF, et al. Proportion of second cancers attributable to radiotherapy treatment in adults: a cohort study in the US SEER cancer registries.Lancet Oncol. 2011 Apr;12(4):353-60. | PubMed | Scholar |

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Webinar Report: Impact of Next Generation/Whole-Genome Sequencing on Companion Diagnostics

Biomarkers are increasingly part of pharmaceutical and clinical strategy.  By some estimates, the success rate of FDA approval of new cancer drugs is 75% if mechanism-of-action and predictive or prognostic biomarkers are clearly defined, whereas it is 25% without the biomarker information.  However, identifying new biomarkers for companion diagnosis (CDx) remains a challenge—the identification of KRAS-type biomarkers is rare, there is a double regulatory hurdle and revenue issues hamper pharmaceutical investment in this area.  Whole-genome sequencing is an important tool in the discovery of biomarkers. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Striking the Heart of Hydra with miRNA

Cancer has long been depicted as a nasty crab.  Now Colin Barras describes it as a “distant animal ancestor, a ‘living fossil’ from over 600 million years ago.”  If cancer is an organism, it is an alien in our bodies.  An alien believed by many to be driven by cancer stem cells on an engine of endothelial-mesenchymal transformation (EMT) phenotype. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Diagnostic Trailblazers in San Diego Advancing CDx, PGx and PM Goals in Cancer

Yesterday, I attended a half day symposium on companion diagnostics (CDx) efforts in San Diego which was organized by the SABPA Science & Technology Forum.  CDx is the identification and detection of biomarkers to predict whether a drug will work or not in a given patient.  Two successful marketed products are HercepTest (marketed by Dako) for Herceptin and KRAS tests for Erbitux and Vectibix.  San Diego biotech has a rich history and deep investments in diagnostics.  This was reflected in the lineup of various talks.

Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami - Help Bring Sendai Back to its Former Self

It is Spring in the Prairies and lovely Fall in Patagonia, and while the world goes through the simple beauty of seasons, one corner of the earth, in the coastal north Japan, has seen countless lives of its citizens shattered and those of survivors changed for ever. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

HiJAKing the JAKs in Myeloproliferative Disorders

Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) are characterized by uncontrolled proliferation of differentiated myeloid cells in the bone marrow, and have an underlying clonal genetic change.  They often evolve into acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).  MPNs with chromosomal translocation t(9;22) BCR-ABL, also called Philadelphia chromosome-positive (Ph+) chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), have a very good prognosis.  Imatinib (Gleevec; Novartis) is a very effective inhibitor of BCR-ABL kinase.  On the other hand, Ph-negative MPNs, until recently had lacked targeted approaches.  This changed in 2005 with the discovery of a dominant gain-of-function somatic mutation in Janus Kinase-2 (JAK2) of a significant proportion of MPNs, wherein guanine-to-thymidine substitution results in a valine-to-phenylalanine change at position 617.  

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Grand Rounds: Russ Altman Introduces Pharmacogenomics Database PharmGKB

Every human cell, with two sets of 23 chromosomes, contains six-billion basepairs of DNA (or three-billion per haploid genome).  Of these three-billion genomic basepairs, each individual shares 99.7% with the rest of the humanity.  It is the three-tenths of a percent that determines the differences between all of us.  This tiny percent, nevertheless, comprises of about a million positions that not only make us unique individuals, but also determine how we respond to environment, succumb to certain diseases, or respond (or not) to certain drugs.  These single nucleotide changes, scattered all over the genome, are called single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP, pronounced snip) - for example, I may have Adenine at position X, you may have C and my friend may have G at the same position.  Since the complete sequencing of human genome in 2003, the post-genomic goal has been, to answer how this 0.3% of genome determines phenotype.  Pharmacogenomics/Pharmacogenetics (PGx) is the study of how genetic makeup correlates to responses to various drugs.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Grand Rounds: Harold Varmus Discusses Cancer Cell Biology and Clinical Translation

Thirty-five years ago Harold E. Varmus [wikipedia], along with J. Michael Bishop, discovered the role of oncogenes in cancer.  That seminal discovery in 1975 gave cancer researchers a path, "the road to be taken," that has today led to great advancements in clinical oncology; it has changed the face of a growing number of cancer types to potentially curable or manageable forms.  Not long ago, both scientists were honored with the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1989 [read, [here, here]

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Oncology Focused Pharmacogenomic "predictive" Biomarkers

Pharmacogenetics and pharmacogenomics (abbreviated together as PGx) are key to the future of personalized medicine.  Pharmacogenomic biomarkers provide tools to predict (a) drug response or (b) adverse drug reactions.  Such biomarkers help to maximize efficacy and minimize toxicity. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Astellas Oncology: Dora's Estrellas in Astellas' Star-Pocket

Many of you may recall the spring of 2010 when Astellas tried to acquire OSI Pharmaceuticals - the barbs flew, as expected, until tons of Yens (to the tune of $4B) were offered to calm OSI and bring it into the Astelles family.  That event signaled the maturing of Astellas as an oncology firm. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Caught in a Bad Project!

If the biopharmaceutical R&D people think they are in a bind these days, it's nothing compared to the Western Lady in the Hui Zheng lab at Baylor College of Medicine, "Blot blot, Western baby. Got no bands this shit is crazy."