Immuno-oncology is one of the hottest fields in pharma today. Since being heralded as Science magazine’s 2013 “Breakthrough of the Year,” progress and enthusiasm have continued at a dizzying pace. Almost every pharmaceutical company with an oncology portfolio has pipeline products that tap into the potential of immuno-oncology. So, what’s all the buzz about?
Until now, all the mainstays of cancer treatment—radiation, surgery, chemotherapy—attacked tumors directly. Immuno-oncology leverages the intrinsic ability of a person’s own immune system to seek and destroy cancer cells. This represents a huge paradigm shift in the treatment of cancer, but the idea is not new. The 19th-century physician William Coley observed that cancer patients who got postsurgical infections had fewer recurrences, a phenomenon he theorized was due to immune stimulation.
It took over a century of refinement, but the recent success of PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors has solidified immuno-oncology as a pillar of cancer care. As a class of therapies, immuno-oncology either removes the brakes or revs the engine of the immune response, overcoming cancer’s carefully constructed defense mechanisms. It has several advantages over traditional therapies that come from the innate characteristics of the immune response—personalized, multifaceted, dynamic, and long-lived. Immuno-oncology is creating a treatment as adaptive as cancer. If cancer is nimble, the immune system is equally so, able to remain a formidable opponent in a changing environment. The promise is clear in the financial projections. Citigroup has put a $35 billion figure on the market potential for these drugs.
Interactive immuno-oncology exhibit has ASH attendees jump-starting the immune system and the conversation
From a marketing perspective, the space is quickly becoming crowded and presents several challenges. There is such an abundance of research that at least 10% of last year’s ASCO abstracts were about PD-1, just one target in immuno-oncology. It was such a hot topic that FierceBiotech dubbed ASCO 2014 the “immunopalooza stage.” Amid all the hype, immuno-oncology is still a new class that needs to be clearly defined. There are many different types of immuno-oncology drugs, including vaccines, engineered T cells, bispecific antibodies, and immune checkpoint inhibitors. How do we cut through the noise, define the different types of immuno-oncology therapies, and establish leadership in the field?
Recently, Navicor had the opportunity to help design a convention booth exhibit about bispecific antibodies for ASH 2014. Bispecific antibodies are designed to bridge cancer cells and T cells, essentially flagging the cancer cell for T-cell–mediated destruction. This traffic builder needed to be engaging and unexpected, and also clearly define the mechanism of this new drug and differentiate it from other immuno-oncology drugs that act at different points in the immunity cycle.
In collaboration with Amgen and Creative Machines, we created a giant light wall to depict the mechanism of action of bispecific antibodies. Conference attendees were invited to insert a peg representing the bispecific antibody into a cancer cell, which then attracted a motorized T cell. The intent of this interaction was to crystallize the understanding that bispecific antibodies act at the point of T-cell recognition of cancer. The display garnered over 60,000 potential impressions across social and traditional media channels, creating a memorable experience that helped define bispecific antibodies in the minds of our customers.