Did you know nearly 1.3 million cases of blood cancer are diagnosed worldwide each year?1
This staggering fact is why Sanofi is actively investigating novel approaches to potentially treat hematologic malignancies, including multiple myeloma, in the hopes of addressing the unmet needs of people living with these difficult-to-treat cancers.
As Sanofi explores the utility of combination regimens and potential treatment modalities, we asked Olivier Nataf, the company’s Global Head of Oncology Franchise, how Sanofi is leveraging its legacy in oncology and scientific innovation to shape a new approach to hematology research.
How has Sanofi’s approach to research and development in hematology evolved in recent years?
We have a history in blood cancer and we continue to expand our expertise. Our global team of scientists and researchers are focused on seeing how new technologies and advancements that weren’t available ten years ago can be integrated into our research programs to build on what we know. We are constantly asking the question: how can we improve outcomes for more people, including difficult-to-treat subgroups of patients?
Within our hematology pipeline, we are focused on taking a multidimensional research approach that leverages numerous technology platforms and modalities. Our R&D teams are currently exploring how best to fight cancer cells across a range of hematologic malignancies, including acute myeloid leukemia, B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and high-risk myelodysplasia.
In multiple myeloma, specifically, we’re designing trials to reflect patient characteristics physicians see in real-world practice, including elderly patients and those with high-risk cytogenetics, renal impairment or frailty. Because this cancer is commonly diagnosed in people over 60 and patients often present with age-related comorbidities, their ability to tolerate current therapies is limited.2 Additionally, we are also exploring novel combination therapies to challenge how we have historically approached cancer treatment. Our goal with this approach – in which two or more therapies work together to target multiple pathways involved in the complex pathophysiology of cancer – is to discover combinations that can potentially make treatment more effective while reducing the risk of drug resistance. This is particularly important in multiple myeloma because patients often relapse and can become refractory to the therapies they receive.3
What is Sanofi working on that you believe will cause the greatest changes to the way blood cancers are treated?
As with any cancer, we have to push the boundaries of science to find new ways of bringing effective treatment to patients. We have already witnessed the emergence of immunotherapies – a specific class of therapeutics that harness the body’s natural immune system to identify and destroy cancer cells.4 This uses targeted approaches that may help to increase efficacy while potentially minimizing side effects,5 which is an important goal of improving the lives of people with hematologic malignancies.
I’m particularly excited by our research on NK cell engagers – derived from “natural killer” cells – that are genetically engineered and reprogrammed outside the body to recognize specific cancer cell markers and destroy them.6
Along with the goal of reducing treatment resistance and toxicity, minimizing the burden of receiving treatment is a key focus area of our research in multiple myeloma. We are exploring innovative methods and devices that may have the potential to decrease the time it takes to receive medication.
Can you speak more about your focus on NK cell engagers? What are the potential benefits of this type of immunotherapy?
What I find most fascinating about NK cells is their unique pathway. NK cells can be administered as an allogeneic transplant – meaning cells from a healthy donor can be transplanted into a person with cancer, unlike CAR T-cell therapies that are typically harvested from the individual patient.
These compounds are in early clinical development, but we believe that they hold promise for people living with certain cancers and we look forward to the continued research. More to come on this, as this is still in the research phase in our pipeline.
What is next for Sanofi in hematology?
It is clear that we’re just getting started. As evident by the ten oncology abstracts, including one oral presentation, we are sharing at this year’s American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting, our portfolio and pipeline have the potential to uncover new ways to approach the treatment of cancer. Now is the time to let this positive momentum drive us to think bigger and delve deeper into the science as we look to progress our expanding pipeline spanning numerous modalities and other unique technologies.
Together, these innovations are extending our capabilities as we work towards delivering treatments that can potentially improve outcomes and the lives of people living with hematologic malignancies.
1International Agency for Research on Cancer. Cancer Today. Available at: https://gco.iarc.fr/today/data/factsheets/cancers/35-Multiple-myeloma-fact-sheet.pdf. Accessed October 26,2023.
2Fraz, MA, et al. Special considerations for the treatment of multiple myeloma according to advanced age, comorbidities, frailty and organ dysfunction. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2019;137:18-26. doi.org/10.1016/j.critrevonc.2019.02.011.
3International Myeloma Foundation. Treatments for Subsequent Relapse. https://www.myeloma.org/treatments-subsequent-relapse. Accessed November 2023.
4National Cancer Institute. Immunotherapy to Treat Cancer. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/immunotherapy. Accessed September 19, 2023.
5Riley RS, et al. Delivery technologies for cancer immunotherapy. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2019;18(3):175-196. doi: 10.1038/s41573-018-0006-z. PMID: 30622344; PMCID: PMC6410566. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6410566/
6Pan K, et al. CAR race to cancer immunotherapy: from CAR T, CAR NK to CAR macrophage therapy. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2022;41(1):119. doi:10.1186/s13046-022-02327-z.