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Recently in Brain Tumor Research: Reporting back from the 2014 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting

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With more than 30,000 attendees from across the oncology field, the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) Annual Meeting is one of the largest and most important yearly gatherings in the field of cancer research.  This year’s 50th ASCO annual meeting (May 30 – June 3) was one of the biggest to-date, with the society estimating it received 5,530 proposed presentations, of which, 2,900 were presented at the meeting as a talk or a poster, along with a great number of other special sessions and discussions.

ASCO 780x300 testAs a recent story from NPR noted, with all of these presentations, cancer research news during this week comes out in a flood. Luckily, the National Brain Tumor Society’s two staff PhDs were in attendance to help sort through all the announcements and highlight four of the most important reports for the brain tumor community to know about.

Immunotherapies steal the show

A class of cancer treatment, called immunotherapies, that harness the power of the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells (we will have more about this treatment modality later this month on the blog), were all the rage at ASCO. Much of the buzz was created from results from skin cancer trials, where much of the early studies into the viability of this type of treatment approach have been performed.

However, Deputy Chairman of the Neuro-Oncology department at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Mark Gilbert, made news on Sunday (June 1st) when he announced that he will be launching a clinical trial to test two of the more talked about potential immunotherapies in development against newly diagnosed glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). Dr. Gilbert told news outlet Reuters:

He got approval last Tuesday from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to start designing the trial, likely to begin this fall, with the melanoma drug Yervoy and an experimental drug called nivolumab. The trial will be run through the nonprofit NRG Oncology, a NCI sponsored cooperative group of cancer researchers.

It was also announced that the maker of the two drugs, Bristol-Myers Squibb, is recruiting for a Phase IIb study of Yervoy and nivolumab – alone or in combination – versus Avastin in recurrent GBM patients, as well. More on that here.

In a separate poster presentation at the meeting, researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, presented additional pre-clinical data that support further exploration of a type of immunotherapies called immune checkpoint blockades.

New Treatment Regime Suggested for Low Grade Gliomas

A group of researchers, led by Dr. Jan C. Buckner of the Mayo Clinic, presented results of the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group – a national clinical cooperative group funded by the NCI – RTOG 9802 trial, which confirmed that adding chemotherapy to the standard treatment of radiation for low-grade glioma patients improves survival.

20140601_195133Initial results from this trial were published in 2012; the results discussed at ASCO were upon additional follow-up and confirmed adding the chemotherapy regime of PCV (procarbazine/CCNU/vincristine), in addition to radiation, for low-grade glioma patients increased life expectancy by 5.5 years. You can read more about the study here.

A separate presentation on low-grade gliomas, specifically pilocytic astrocytomas, also identified a potential new method to more accurately diagnose and set prognoses’ for subsets of these patients.

Insights into the Future of Avastin for GBM Patients

At the 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting, two large clinical trials were presented that offered disappointing overall survival data for the use of the anti-cancer drug Avastin to treat newly diagnosed GBM patients. The results have left the scientific community debating the future role of Avastin in treating brain cancer.

At this year’s meeting, two new studies offered a glimpse at what the future might hold for Avastin as a GBM treatment.

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National Brain Tumor Society’s booth at ASCO 2014

In a presentation by Heidi Phillips, PhD, of Genentech (Avastin’s maker), exploratory data looking back on Genentech’s AVAglio study seemed to indicate a subgroup of GBM patients that may actually derive an overall survival benefit from the drug. Dr. Phillips cautioned that these findings need to be “validated by an independent dataset”. Read more.

Also, separate research presented this year concluded that anti-angiogenic therapies – a class of treatments that include Avastin – have, to-date, demonstrated insufficient results to recommend their use to treat GBM patients, and similarly concluded that additional studies are still needed to verify any possible survival benefit for certain subgroups, or in quality of life measures.

Trial Results Presented

A number of on-going clinical trials results were also presented at ASCO 2014. Most of the results were early and/or interim data, so much more is still to be learned about these potential treatments. Among them were:

  • AbbVie – Phase I data of the company’s antibody-drug conjugate, ABT-414, in combination with temozolomide (Temodar) in recurrent GBM patients, or GBM patients with unresectable tumors. More.
  • DelMar Pharmaceuticals – Phase I/II data of the company’s VAL-083 in patients with recurrent GBM. More.
  • ImmunoCellular Therapeutics – Update on the Phase II results of the company’s ICT-107 in newly diagnosed glioblastoma multiforme. More.
  • Nektar Therapeutics - New data from an investigator-sponsored Phase II study of the company’s NKTR-102 in high-grade glioma patients who have failed on Avastin. More.
  • Threshold Therapeutics – Phase I/II data of an investigator-sponsored study of their prodrug, TH-302, in combination with Avastin for GBM patients that have progressed on Avastin alone. More.
  • Apogenix - Results from a Phase II study of using the company’s APG101 with radiation, versus radiation alone in recurrent GBM. More.
  • GlaxoSmithKline – Preliminary results of an ongoing Phase I/IIa study of the company’s drug dabrafenib in pediatric patients with BRAFV600 mutant solid tumors, including primary brain tumors. More.

To access more information and news from ASCO 2014 visit the meeting’s Daily New section here, and access abstracts specifically from the CNS track, here

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