Our October group came together for an hour of specialist discussion about how best to understand the tumour microenvironment with advanced technologies. This discussion group featured a select group of approximately 15-20 key industry leaders working in immuno-oncology from both pharmaceutical and biotech companies. The discussion was moderated by Paul Jones, Biomarkers Lead at UCB, and panellists included John Rossi, Senior Vice President and Head of Translational Medicine at Cero Therapeutics and Siddha Kasar, Clinical Translational Lead of Cell Therapies at Takeda. The session was attended by senior representatives from Abbvie, Roche, PsiOxus, and Pathios Pharmaceuticals as well as researchers from renowned academic institutions such as the University of Oxford.
Paul Jones kicked off the discussion with a brief overview of the main functions and interactions of the tumour microenvironment. During this, Jones delved into the various peripheral markers and technologies available to enhance understanding of the tumour microenvironment. In particular, Jones spoke of the vital contingency of the microenvironment for comprehension of direct immune cell characterisation, which he deemed “the gold standard of immuno-oncology and immunotherapy”. The opening summary also delved into future outlooks for the industry, touching on the prospects of longitudinal samples and biopsy technologies to further predict and monitor cancer development and response to treatment.
After Jones’s introduction concluded, the debate began. Siddha Kasar opened the floor to discuss the current high interest and industry trend of using tumour biopsies. Kasar spoke about the various technologies available for cancer diagnoses, such as liquid biopsy and CTCs. She also explained the importance of tumour specific panel biopsies, where “you can potentially start looking at driver mutations and how tumours are evolving”. An interesting point raised was how within the immuno landscape “partial transcriptomics is now the great solution to tumour microenvironment analysis”. According to Kasar, the study of the transcriptome in human genomes enables access to an extensive profile of known human genes, which can then be translated and expressed into cell types.
The panel continued with debate over the numerous barriers to performing post-treatment biopsies. Fellow panellist John Rossi pointed out that because this approach is still in the clinical trial stage of development, the industry still requires a level of willingness to incorporate such testing into their studies. “You have to find the right investigators at the right centre who are willing to do post-treatment biopsies”, he explained. Rossi elaborated by saying, “you are not going to get all of them to comply and, as an industry, we cannot enforce biopsies; they are only optional”. Additionally, it can be difficult to predict the appropriate time to conduct post-treatment biopsies. Proceed with biopsies too early and compromise accuracy; leave it too late, and toxicity sets in. According to Rossi, studies conducted at Cero Therapeutics have shown that the optimal timeframe to be “around stage three to five because that happens to sit within the toxicity window”.
In response to the various hurdles posed by the tumour microenvironment, the discussion turned to future outlooks for investigational technologies. For audience member David Krige, Vice President of Translational Medicine at PsiOxus Therapeutics, T cell repertoire analysis provides a compelling peripheral marker. Krige highlights how “there is a lot of interesting data suggesting that T cell repertoire in the blood is fairly representative of the repertoire in the tumour”. Deeming it “an interesting surrogate of what is happening in the tumour”, Krige explained how such sequencing can lead to optimised detection rates. The conversation also highlighted Genentech’s recent studies into measuring the immune repertoire with adaptive biotechnologies and its promise for target killing and minimising off-target effects.
The discussion group concluded with some final thoughts on the future of understanding the tumour microenvironment with advanced technologies. With ongoing research and development and numerous exciting pipelines emerging in the field, the future looks bright for the immuno industry. At Oxford Global, we couldn’t have been more pleased with the turnout for our October immuno discussion group. The conversation was engaging, the debate stimulating, and the industry insights invaluable. We will continue our discussion group series this January to address preclinical modelling strategies in immuno-oncology. Learn more about the Oxford Global discussion group series at our Immuno Portal.