Few scientific advances have transformed cancer care as quickly or broadly as cancer immunotherapy. In little over a decade, a series of innovative immunotherapies have improved outcomes for patients with some of the most daunting cancers, from melanoma to difficult-to-treat lymphomas and certain lung and liver cancers.
“Immunotherapy has transformed cancer care and offered hope for many patients who otherwise would’ve had few options,” said Charlie Fuchs, Genentech’s Global Head of Oncology and Hematology Product Development. “But in many ways we’re only getting started. A large share of patients with cancer still can’t benefit from the treatments we have, and as scientists, we’re still learning why. That’s why it’s critical for us to continue our relentless pursuit to expand the benefits of immunotherapy to as many people as possible.”
Breakthrough science, propelled by unmet patient needs
Since 2011, the FDA has approved over three dozen novel immunotherapy treatments for patients with various forms of cancer.1 Yet, in many cases, patients’ tumors don’t respond well enough to these medicines, or the cancer develops resistance and begins to grow and spread.
“This is one of our top priorities in cancer research today — to understand why some people don’t respond to available immunotherapies, and then use that knowledge to create new medicines and apply the ones we have in more personalized ways”
Charlie Fuchs, Genentech’s Global Head of Oncology and Hematology Product Development
Genentech scientists are tackling this challenge by exploring a range of innovative treatments to help deliver more options to people with cancer. Among these are an emerging class of immunotherapies called CD20xCD3 T-cell engaging bispecifics. These medicines are designed to recruit the immune system to destroy cancer cells by engaging with two different targets simultaneously – for example, CD20 on the blood cancer cell and CD3 on the T-cell. Genentech recently presented positive findings from pivotal clinical trials of two of these investigational medicines in patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
According to Charlie, the company’s bispecifics portfolio is exciting in part because they are fixed-duration treatments that are taken for a finite amount of time, rather than indefinitely, giving patients a defined end to treatment. Unlike some immunotherapy treatments, some bispecifics also have the potential to be administered closer to patients’ homes, instead of requiring a trip to an academic medical center. “Our aim is to deliver a whole new generation of cancer immunotherapies that deliver improved responses for more people with cancer,” said Charlie.
A separate class of immunotherapies and currently the most widely used, are medicines known as checkpoint inhibitors, which work by blocking signals from cancer cells that suppress the body’s immune system, enabling it to recognize, target, and destroy cancer cells.
Nearly a decade ago, Genentech scientists identified a novel checkpoint inhibitor when they realized blocking a protein on T cells known as TIGIT could potentially enhance the effects of the then groundbreaking checkpoint inhibitors that block the PD-L1 protein. Ongoing clinical trials are now evaluating this novel approach in difficult-to-treat cancers.
Doing more with today’s therapies
Along with creating new therapies, Charlie points to the importance of expanding and personalizing the use of already approved immunotherapy medicines. Building on Genentech’s long history of discovery, their scientists are exploring new immune biomarkers that might help identify patients who are most likely to benefit from a given immunotherapy strategy. Their research promises to help doctors take better advantage of existing checkpoint inhibitors, while informing strategies for developing new options.
Genentech is also working to bring the benefits of immunotherapy to patients with earlier stages of cancer, with the goal of putting the possibility of cure within reach. Building on our success in lung cancer, studies are now under way in early liver, head and neck, and kidney cancers, with several trial results expected soon.
“This is an ambitious approach,” said Charlie. “Not every trial will deliver the result that we — or more importantly, patients — hope for. But we’re committed to this work, knowing that the possibility of bringing a new medicine to patients means the possibility of more patients receiving the care that is precisely right for them.”
To learn more, visit Genentech’s Oncology Hub.
1 Cancer Research Institute. FDA Approval Timeline of Active Immunotherapies. Available online at: https://www.cancerresearch.org/en-us/scientists/immuno-oncology-landscape/fda-approval-timeline-of-active-immunotherapies. Accessed on May 23, 2022.