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Biotech’s Role in Addressing the Pancreatic Cancer Emergency

FN Media Group Presents USA News Group News Commentary


Vancouver, BC – March 14, 2024 – USA News Group – Known as one of the most deadly forms of cancer, pancreatic cancer still has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers today. However, researchers and the biotech sector are working diligently to improve the chances of those who receive this dire diagnosis. Recently, in late 2023, researchers at the Mayo Clinic made a discovery that advances knowledge of how pancreatic cancer spreads and identified a new potential therapeutic target along the way. With the American Cancer Society projecting a record year for new cancer cases in 2024, and Europe facing a pancreatic cancer emergency, it’s important to focus on the advances being made in the biotech sector that are giving hope to patients and their families. Among the developers making gains include Oncolytics Biotech Inc. (NASDAQ:ONCY) (TSX:ONC), Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS), ImmunityBio, Inc. (NASDAQ:IBRX), Aclaris Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ:ACRS), and Nuvation Bio Inc. (NYSE:NUVB).


There is a point of optimism to build upon, as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) has stated the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer has increased to 13%. Among the therapy developers that have garnered accolades and support from PanCAN is Oncolytics Biotech Inc. (NASDAQ:ONCY) (TSX:ONC), which late last year took home a US$5 million Therapeutic Accelerator Award based on the promising results being delivered by its flagship asset, pelareorep.


Since winning the award, Oncolytics has moved to make an amendment to its ongoing GOBLET gastrointestinal cancer study to include a new (fifth) cohort. This new cohort will evaluate the immunotherapy asset pelareorep in combination with modified FOLFIRINOX (mFOLFIRINOX) both with and without atezolizumab (Tecentriq®) in patients with newly diagnosed metastatic pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC).


“We are enthusiastic to have the support of PanCAN to expand the evaluation of pelareorep in pancreatic cancer and explore mFOLFIRINOX as another combination that could improve outcomes for patients,” said Dr. Matt Coffey, President and CEO of Oncolytics. “Evaluating pelareorep in combination with these widely used regimens is an important step in our broad clinical development program. Last fall, we reported a 62% objective response rate for the GOBLET PDAC cohort studying pelareorep in combination with the checkpoint inhibitor atezolizumab in addition to gemcitabine and nab-paclitaxel. This response is about three times that of historical controls and forms the basis of the registrational program, expected to begin this year.”


Oncolytics is conducting the GOBLET trial to investigate the effectiveness of pelareorep in enhancing the treatment of pancreatic cancer, a disease known for its poor 5-year survival rate. This is largely due to the cancer’s ability to hide from the immune system and create an environment that suppresses immune response. In late 2022, the FDA granted pelareorep a fast track designation, acknowledging its potential to stimulate both the innate and adaptive immune systems and alter the tumor microenvironment. This makes pelareorep a promising candidate for combination therapy.


“This study is designed to evaluate whether pelareorep can enhance outcomes in patients receiving mFOLFIRINOX, one of the most commonly used metastatic pancreatic cancer treatments,” said Thomas Heineman, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer at Oncolytics. “Combining pelareorep with mFOLFIRINOX represents an expansion of our existing pancreatic cancer program and maximizes the potential of pelareorep-based combination therapies to benefit pancreatic cancer patients.”


After discontinuing development of its monoclonal antibody NIS793 for the treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer, Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS) has opened 2024 with positive data from its Lutathera asset. In a mid-January release, Novartis announced that Lutathera significantly reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 72% as first-line treatment for patients with advanced gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.


“These positive results for Lutathera are practice-changing and offer new first-line treatment data for patients who have a significant unmet need,” said Dr. Simron Singh, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto and co-founder of the Susan Leslie Clinic for Neuroendocrine Tumours at the Odette Cancer Centre, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Ontario, Canada. “This study confirms the clinical benefit of first-line radioligand therapy for newly diagnosed patients living with these types of advanced GEP-NETs. These findings should instill confidence among physicians in using Lutathera as a first-line treatment for patients with this life-threatening type of cancer.”


Back in early 2022, ImmunityBio, Inc. (NASDAQ:IBRX) showed promising results for its Nant Pancreatic Cancer Vaccine. Now, in February 2024, ImmunityBio has announced full accrual of its first two phases of a cancer vaccine trial in participants with Lynch Syndrome and the initiation of a randomized control phase of the trial. Lynch Syndrome is one of the most common hereditary cancer syndromes, occurring in 1 in every 300 Americans. People with Lynch Syndrome can not only develop colorectal cancer 20 years prior to the average age of diagnosis for that form of cancer but are also at an increased risk of developing many other types of cancers, including pancreatic.


“We are encouraged by how rapidly this study has been able to enroll participants,” said Asad Umar, D.V.M., Ph.D., a senior advisor to the Director for Translational Research in NCI’s Division of Cancer Prevention (DCP) and a scientific lead for the trial. “It is a strong indication of an unmet need and of the willingness of participants to help science make new discoveries in the area of cancer prevention.”


Moving on from a disastrous year in 2023, Aclaris Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ:ACRS) is resurrecting its asset zunsemetinib as a potential cancer treatment. As per the company’s last corporate update of 2023, Aclaris now plans to explore zunsemetinib as a potential treatment for pancreatic cancer and metastatic breast cancer.


“Throughout our history, Aclaris has remained focused on developing novel drugs where there is a lack of satisfactory treatment options,” said Dr. Neal Walker, Co-Founder, Chairman, and Interim CEO of Aclaris in a January 2024 strategic business review. “We are well capitalized and we have recently taken the hard but necessary steps to streamline our operations to reduce costs and preserve capital in order to put Aclaris in an optimal position for the future.”


In early January 2024, the FDA cleared the investigational new drug (IND) application of Nuvation Bio Inc. (NYSE:NUVB) to evaluate its first clinical candidate from its novel drug-drug conjugate (DDC) platform, NUV-1511.


“This IND clearance expands our clinical pipeline and validates the approach of our proprietary DDC platform to design potent oncology-focused chimeric small molecules which combine tumor-targeting specificity with the anti-cancer activity of known oncology agents,” said David Hung, M.D., Founder, President, and CEO of Nuvation Bio. “We believe NUV-1511 has the potential to provide favorable clinical benefit for patients with various solid tumors and we look forward to initiating the Phase 1/2 study.”


The initial part of the Phase 1/2 study will assess safety and tolerability and investigate the potential effectiveness in patients with advanced solid tumors. It will focus on patients with pancreatic cancer, HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer, metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC), and platinum-resistant ovarian cancer (PROC).


Nuvation is already undergoing dosing in the Phase 1 monotherapy study of NUV-868 in solid tumors in patients with pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC), triple-negative breast cancer and other solid tumors.


“We remain focused on strong clinical execution of our NUV-868 program for advanced solid tumors,” said Hung in his company’s Q3 2023 business update.


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USA News Group


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