ASCO’s conference, the 2020 Community Oncology Alliance Annual Conference, and other meets continue apace despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Conferences that have moved online are now presenting their findings virtually. Among them are a leadership panel addressing issues in cancer care, ASCO’s annual meeting, and more. Read the details in this week’s Innovation Partners BioBlog.

Innovation Partners Weekly BioBlog June 7

Why Big Pharma Is Betting on Blockchain

The modern global supply chain is fraught with problems. Theft, fraud, and deception occur because many countries and companies still rely on paper documents to accompany their products. BSI Group, the national standards body of the U.K., estimates that pharmaceutical cargo theft tops $1 billion per year. As the world waits for a COVID-19 vaccine to be developed and launched, the pharmaceutical industry eyes blockchain technology to track shipments. The blockchain offers a permanent, unalterable record of transfer that can be used to trace shipments from point of origin to receipt. The ledger upon which the blockchain is written is controlled by all users, ensuring that no one company can dominate or control the future vaccine supply chain. New pressures are also at work on the pharmaceutical industry to develop better tracking systems. This article offers an in-depth look at how blockchain may help the pharmaceutical industry with its supply chain.

ASCO Highlights: Takeda, Genentech, Johnson & Johnson and More

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) helds it meeting this year online. The virtual lineup included hundreds of abstracts, poster sessions, and presentations. Highlights included Takeda Pharmaceutical’s presentation of results of the Phase II Pevonedistat-2001 trial and others. Genentech (a Roche company )announced results from the Phase II CITYSCAPE trial of tiragolumab plus Tecentriq (atezolizumab) compared to Tecentriq alone as a first-line treatment for PD-L1-positive metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Janssen (a Johnson & Johnson company) presented four studies. Full coverage of the highlights are included in the main article.

Why COVID-19 is spurring ‘buzz’ among employers about reference-based pricing

Why the sudden interest in reference-based pricing? COVID-19 is forcing many employers to rethink health insurance. With reference-based pricing, an employer would not contract with a traditional payer but instead with a vendor who manages coverage set at a flat rate across providers. This is typically higher than Medicare but less than would be paid under a commercial plan. It is one among many cost-savings strategies that employers are exploring amidst shrinking profits during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Researchers Identify Key Immune Checkpoint Protein That Operates Within T Cells

A new study led by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) has identified a protein within certain immune cells that is required for optimal immune responses to cancer. The findings also suggest that the protein might be useful for predicting which cancer patients are less likely to respond to the form of therapy called immune checkpoint blockade. The study’s leads, Zihai Li, MD, PhD, and Ephraim Abrokwa Ansa-Addo, PhD, state that the findings indicate PCBP1 shapes tolerance and immunity by distinctively regulating cytotoxic T-cell versus regulatory T-cell differentiation. This could be a marker for response to immune checkpoint blockade therapy.

Novartis closes on EU approval for breast cancer drug Piqray

Novartis has moved nearer to claiming approval for its PI3K inhibitor Piqray for breast cancer in the EU, one of several new drugs that the company thinks have blockbuster sales potential. Piqray was approved in the US last year, one of five 2019 approvals for Novartis that the company says will help drive sales growth in the coming years, and since then has also been approved in more than a dozen other countries including Switzerland, Canada and Australia. It achieved sales of $74 million in the first quarter of 2020, which Novartis said was an “excellent” start given that use of the drug also depends on encouraging physicians to test for the PIK3CA mutation, which is seen in around 40% of advanced HR+/HER2- breast cancer patients. If it is approved by the EMA, Piqray will become the first targeted treatment for hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative (HR+/HER2-) breast cancer in Europe.

Leadership Panel Addresses Top Issues in Cancer Care

Cancer care leaders gathered for a virtual summit, the 2020 Community Oncology Alliance Annual Conference,to discuss current events including COVID-19 and its ramifications on oncology care. Ted Okon, MBA, the executive director of the oncology alliance, asked panel members what their biggest challenge related to community cancer care is today. The response: patients need additional counseling and financial aid. Many patients have lost their health insurance due to losing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and may need financial counseling and assistance. Other issues discussed include the importance of maintaining telehealth services, which has proven to be of great benefit to patients, and more.