Immunotherapy Drug Development Pipeline Continues Significant Growth In 2020 Despite Global Pandemic Impact

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby


Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe, there has been a resurgence of interest in immuno-oncology (I-O) preclinical and clinical development, bringing hope to cancer patients and physicians who treat them. The volume of clinical investigations testing I-O therapies for the treatment of cancer continues to grow with hundreds of new cell therapies being added to the development pipeline each year along with an expansion of immune modulators targeting other components of the immune system beyond T cells, which have so far led cancer immunotherapy approvals worldwide.

The most recent annual Immuno-Oncology Landscape update from the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), published today in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, demonstrates the continued rapid growth and diversity of I-O drugs in preclinical and clinical development. According to the report, there was a 22 percent increase of I-O drugs in the development pipeline from 2019 to 2020, a greater year-over-year increase than seen from 2018 to 2019. Overall, this growth amounts to a 233 percent increase from the first CRI I-O Landscape report published just three years ago.

CRI’s latest I-O Landscape report also shows that, as in past years, clinical development of new T cell immunomodulators, modulators of other immune cells, and cell therapies continues to increase. Overall, top active targets for I-O therapies are CD19, tumor-associated antigens (TAAs), and PD-L1. However, the number of agents targeting general TAAs decreased from 2020 to 2019, which may be due to cancer vaccine de-prioritization. This decline has recovered in the past year, in part owing to new preclinical cancer vaccines based on neoantigens and nanoparticle technology.

“The Cancer Research Institute believes that this continued and robust interest in I-O research – especially through a pandemic that has significantly affected the scientific community – shows that transformative expansion of I-O therapy development is far from over,” said Samik Upadhaya, Ph.D., a research analyst at the Cancer Research Institute and lead author on the report.

The analysis also reveals a 14 percent increase in active clinical trials testing I-O agents in 2020 compared to 2019. Consistent with the start and peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a decrease in new trials compared to those in previous years. However in recent months, there has been a rebound in new trials, which the authors predict should keep 2020 on an upward trajectory.

“This analysis affirms that I-O therapies are a mainstay in current cancer treatments and will likely continue to trend toward increased growth for the good of cancer patients for years to come,” said Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., chief executive officer and director of scientific affairs at CRI.

Analyses of the development landscape such as that provided by CRI may assist pharmaceutical companies in planning their pipeline strategies and lead to productive partnerships in the further development and commercialization of these valuable cancer therapies.

Upadhaya et al. Immuno-oncology drug development forges on despite COVID-19. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, September 2020