The R&D Race behind Immune Checkpoint Modulators

Chanice Henry

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The cancer immunotherapy market is primed for growth, with Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors, otherwise known as Immune Checkpoint Modulators, representing one of the area’s newest and most promising treatments. While also incorporating the focus on cancer vaccines and adoptive T-cell therapies, the global cancer immunotherapy market is expected to climb to $9 billion by 2022 according to a statement within the Cancer Immunotherapy Market: Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors, Cancer Vaccines, And Adoptive T-Cell Therapies Market Report. (1)

In a recent statement capturing the industry’s anticipation towards this area, the report said: “….Immuno-oncology is expected to be a game-changing approach to treating cancer. It may well constitute a new mode of cancer treatment, alongside surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Immunotherapies may eventually be used in as many as 60% of cases of advanced cancer, and are likely to see their first applications in melanoma, NSCLC, and B-cell malignancies.”


The Standing Marketplace

This buzz of attention has propelled the R&D race in the immune checkpoint modulator arena, which boasts an optimistic pipeline of therapies with all eyes set on obtaining blockbuster status.

The pharmaceutical marked as the most prevalent in today’s market is Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Yervoy with many others marked in the pipeline to be following its lead. (2) Others currently standing in the market include Keytruda (pembrolizumab) which gained accelerated approval last month. Marketed by Merck & Co, the drug is a non-small cell lung cancer treatment, - the most common type of lung cancer according to the National Cancer Institute. Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo (nivolumab)which treats squamnous non-small cell lung cancer also achieved approval this year.

The Cancer Immunotherapy MarketResearch Report noted that collectively Yervoy, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s /Ono's nivolumab, Merck's pembrolizumab, Genentech/Roche/Chugai's MPDL3280A and MedImmune/AZ's MEDI4736 are all predicted to head up the space, with an 85% share of the immune-oncology market by 2022.(1)

The immune checkpoint modulation Pipeline

Treatments in the pipeline that are within advanced stages of development include Tremelimumab, Elotuzumab, RG7446 and Avelumab. These have all been dubbed by industry members as key products to watch in the rush for blockbuster status. (2)  

The immune system strategically prevents attacks on healthy cells via the presence of ‘checkpoints’ – molecules attached to immune cells that must be activated for an attack to occur.  Cancerous cells deactivate these checkpoints on immune system cells - in most cases the T Cells-  as to avoid detection. However, by targeting these checkpoints new breakthrough therapy Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors  help the patient’s body recognise and consequently attack cancer cells.

Combination Treatments

At an industry conference last week, oncology-focused clinical stage immunotherapy company Immune Design presented brand new data illustrating potent local and systemic anti-tumor effects in cancer from combining checkpoint inhibitors with its ZVex G100 product candidates. In commenting on the findings Jan ter Meulen, MD, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at Immune Design said: "Mechanistically, it is generally believed that the generation of tumor-specific CD8 T-cells can improve the clinical efficacy of checkpoint inhibitors, especially in patients with insufficient T-cell responses. These preclinical data provide a strong rationale for our ongoing and planned clinical trials which combine LV305, CMB305 and G100, agents from our ZVex and GLAAS discovery platforms, with KEYTRUDA and Atezolizumab."

In concluding its summary on the growing level of immunotherapies and the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors, Cancer Immunotherapy MarketResearch Reportsaid:  “Either alone or in combination therapies, immunotherapies may produce long-term remissions or even cures for cancers that have been uniformly fatal until very recently. Thus immuno-oncology is an important and rapidly emerging field, which deserves the attention it has been receiving in recent years.” (1)



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