Cancers of the blood are starting to meet their match.
Elotuzumab was developed by AbbVie, and Business Insider spoke with Gary Gordon, the company’s vice president of oncology development, about its cancer drugs, and what the future of cancer treatment will look like.
Gordon said AbbVie will be presenting 61 pieces of data about its oncology pipeline at the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting, which kicked off Saturday in Orlando.
“It’s a pretty exciting time for AbbVie oncology,” he said. “In many ways there’s a really big coming-out party for us at ASH.”
AbbVie’s oncology portfolio includes drugs like elotuzumab (which goes by the name Empliciti) and Imbruvica, a drug that’s approved to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, another kind of blood cancer.
Imbruvica, which AbbVie picked up when it acquired Pharmacyclics this year, is giving patients with CLL a completely new way to treat the cancer. And elotuzumab is an immuno-oncology drug which work to attack cancer cells using the body’s own immune system, unlike chemotherapy and radiation that kills both cancerous and healthy cells. The therapies have attracted the interest of investors, though there is still scepticism about how well the drugs work.
“My own personal view is that immuno-oncology is an important part of the treatment of cancer,” he said. “I think that the evidence is becoming clear that harnessing immune system to control and fight cancer will be important.”
Another CLL treatment, venetoclax, is in phase 3 clinical trials. It works by helping the body generate new cells. Often, cancerous cells don’t die when they’re supposed to, living much longer than healthy cells. Venetoclax goes in and tells those cells to die, which gives healthy cells room to grow, Gordon explained.
“It’s tough for us not to love it,” he said. “The program is nearly 20 years old between Abbott and AbbVie.”
Overall, Gordon likes the prospect at having so many drugs to treat cancers of the blood.
“It’s not just having one arrow in the quiver. It’s bringing together a group of drugs that attack the pathways of cancer,” he said.
Apart from AbbVie’s recent approval in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb, which will market the drug, there’s not a lot of immuno-oncology drugs in AbbVie’s late-stage pipeline.
“It’s a little too early for kind of excitement around the program that you see around the others,” he said. “But give us a couple of years, and we’ll be at the table.”
Gordon said what he’s most excited for at ASH, apart from presenting AbbVie’s data, is hearing what other companies are up to and learning more about the science he hasn’t had time to focus on in the last year.
“It’s amazing how fast the science moves forward and it gets, this might be cliche, but it gets faster every year. There’s more every year.”
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