Tom Lynch and Amadou Diarra

Advancing Translational Cancer Research

Collaboration could be the key to researching and discovering the next generation of I-O compounds

02/06/17

T

he potential to boost the body’s immune system to fight cancer has produced some of the most remarkable research in decades. Excitement in the Immuno-Oncology (I-O) sector is palpable, as many researchers and developers are seeking potential ways to help more patients.  

“The progress in the I-O sector to date is the result of the combined efforts of many scientists, academic researchers, clinicians and patients who participated in clinical trials,” says Dr. Tom J. Lynch Jr., chief scientific officer at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “There are hundreds of scientists who can claim a very important role in the research of I-O compounds.”

Bristol-Myers Squibb has more than 75 active partnerships and collaborations with academic research centers, laboratories, clinicians, clinical trials organizations and biotech firms. The following key collaborations demonstrate the company’s commitment to working with a broad range of multidisciplinary experts in hopes of advancing translational research within the I-O sector.

The International Immuno-Oncology Network (II-ON) 

In 2012, the company launched the International Immuno-Oncology Network (II-ON). The II-ON is a global peer-to-peer collaboration with 15 academic cancer research centers that aims to advance I-O science and translational medicine through innovation. With member organizations in North America, Europe, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia, the II-ON is one of the first networks to bring industry and academia together in this area. 

Within II-ON, more than 250 investigators are focusing on three scientific pillars to advance I-O discovery and development: understanding the mechanisms of resistance, identifying the patient populations most likely to benefit and exploring novel combinations that may enhance anti-tumor response through complimentary mechanisms of action.

"The progress in the I-O sector to date is the result of the combined efforts of many scientists, academic researchers, clinicians and patients who participated in clinical trials." -Dr. Tom J. Lynch Jr.

To date, the II-ON has produced data from more than 150 research projects and launched 12 biology-driven clinical trials across 20 different tumor types. Insights from that data have led to several published papers and some of the earliest findings on a number of biomarkers, as well as target identification and validation. 

“The II-ON is one of the best examples of people working on linking the understanding of tumor biology to improved patient outcomes,” Lynch says. “This link is critical as we continue to look at investigational compounds.” 

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy 

On March 28, 2017, Bristol-Myers Squibb became the first industry partner to join a collaboration with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and the Cancer Research Institute (CRI)

Tom Lynch

Bristol-Myers Squibb CSO Dr. Tom J. Lynch Jr.

“The Parker Institute collaboration is incredibly important,” Lynch says. “It brings together leading immunologists from six academic cancer centers in the United States who are focused on translating breakthrough research into I-O treatments that could make a difference for patients.” 

One of the areas that Lynch hopes the collaboration will shed light on is why cold tumors, those that aren't recognized by the immune system and thus aren't infiltrated with immune cells, don't respond to I-O therapies. “We know that immunotherapies can be very active in some cancers—for example, melanoma, kidney cancer, squamous cell lung cancer and leukemia,” he says. “But we need to find out why we can’t generate a profound immune response in other cancers, such as estrogen receptor positive breast cancer, or colon cancer, or pancreatic cancer.”  

Established in 2015 through a $250 million grant from The Parker Foundation, The Parker Institute collaboration is a boon for participating organizations. Operating under a common framework will streamline procedures to collect samples and response data; help manage the discovery of intellectual property as a shared resource; and coordinate clinical trials more efficiently and at a lower cost.

The Parker Institute published its first scientific paper in Nature on April 10, 2017. It details the work of scientists from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Philadelphia, who found that T-cell invigoration and tumor mutational burden are important factors in predicting patient response rates.    

Foundation Medicine

Two days after joining forces with the Parker Institute, Bristol-Myers Squibb entered into another collaboration—this time with Foundation Medicine, a leading molecular information company. The agreement gives Bristol-Myers Squibb access to data analysis platforms that provide deep insights into the genomic changes driving each patient’s unique cancer. 

The FoundationOne assay combines comprehensive genomic profiling data from hundreds of genes associated with cancer with algorithms to measure biomarkers, including tumor mutational burden and microsatellite instability, without the need for whole exome sequencing. Reports to clinicians are personalized for each patient, providing results for genomic alterations, a list of FDA-approved therapies that may address them and clinical trials to consider. 

Government Collaborations

Recognizing that pooling knowledge and resources with a range of stakeholders will accelerate the pace of I-O discovery, Bristol-Myers Squibb actively participated in meetings with officials in the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, which was led by former Vice President Joe Biden from January 2015 to November 2016. The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation supported the Cancer Moonshot initiative with $25 million in funding. 

Amadou Diarra and Tom Lynch

Amadou Diarra and Tom Lynch

“There were two elements of our involvement with the Cancer Moonshot,” says Amadou Diarra, head of Global Policy, Advocacy & Government Affairs at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “Our scientists participated in roundtable discussions with other experts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and top influencers in cancer, and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation participated in discussions about access to care.”

The fate of the NCI’s Cancer Moonshot is still to be determined under the new Administration. In the meantime, Joe Biden recently announced he will continue efforts to accelerate cancer research and access to treatments for more patients under the Biden Foundation.

 

"The Cancer Moonshot Program sparked awareness about the importance of striking new collaborations and partnerships to advance cancer research across the globe." -Amadou Diarra

“Regardless of its fate, the Cancer Moonshot Program sparked awareness about the importance of striking new collaborations and partnerships to advance cancer research across the globe,” Diarra says. He recently attended a roundtable talk among 30 global representatives at the U.S. Embassy in Sweden, which was prompted by a bilateral agreement signed in September 2016 to support cooperation in cancer research and prevention in the context of the Cancer Moonshot program.

Bristol-Myers Squibb has been at the forefront of drug discovery and development in the I-O space for more than 20 years, forging early collaborations and partnerships in the hopes of advancing translational medicine. “These are just a few of our most recent collaborations with academic cancer research centers, networks, global governmental bodies and industry partners in the I-O sector,” Lynch says. “Pooling knowledge, resources and data are crucial. The solution to the cancer puzzle is not going to come from just one researcher or one team. It’s going to come from a collaborative effort across the sector. We are dedicated to finding the answers so more patients can benefit.”