Networking, ADCs and Early Science on the Agenda at AACR 2024

San Diego abstract/Taylor Tieden

Pictured: San Diego over abstract cancer cell background/Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

This weekend, life science professionals will flock to sunny San Diego for the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting, taking place April 5–10. While thousands of abstracts are lined up, these presentations aren’t the only thing drawing attendees—it’s also the networking. 

As Jacob Van Naarden, president of Eli Lilly’s Loxo Oncology division, told BioSpace, “We have a lot of smart people . . . but there’s a lot of smart people elsewhere too.” 

Van Naarden said his team doesn’t go for the data as much as to gain an “orthogonal viewpoint” and discover new ideas to “tinker around with.”  

Ulrike Peters, associate director of the Public Health Sciences Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, concurred. “It’s about meeting your colleagues,” and picking up new ideas to incorporate into her science, she told BioSpace.  

Peters is a genetic population epidemiologist working with technology for formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue samples. FFPE tissues collected from a large, broadly diverse population are now accessible to analyze a tumor, its immune profile and the microenvironment. This access could enable the faster discovery of new genes or tumor trends that could become a starting point for drug development, Peters explained. It’s initiatives like these, along with insights into social determinants of health, that she is most looking forward to at AACR.  

The conference showcases the latest advancements in cancer science and medicine. Peters co-authored a study slated for presentation on Tuesday on the association between somatic microsatellite instability, hypermutation status and specific T cell subsets in colorectal cancer tumors.

ADCs in Vogue in 2024

Kristin Bedard, vice president of biologics at Loxo Oncology, told BioSpace she’s most interested in learning about early antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) work at this year's meeting. Eli Lilly has recently invested heavily in the space, with the October 2023 acquisition of Mablink Bioscience, and a collaboration with ImmunoGen announced in February that could be worth $1.7 billion. Bedard is hoping for a peek into work companies are doing around so-called third-generation ADC technologies. Rather than clinical data, she’s hoping to see “more innovation-based work.” 

On this note, Elevation Oncology will present proof-of-concept data for a differentiated HER3-targeted ADC on Monday. Separately, Munich-based Tubulis will bring two abstracts on next-generation ADC candidates TUB-030, which is directed against the tumor-associated antigen 5T4, and TUB-040, which targets Napi2b, a well-characterized target in ovarian and lung cancer, according to the company. Both abstracts will also be presented on Monday.  

Additionally, Lilly has an “ambitious agenda” this year in terms of new medicines entering the clinic, Van Naarden said. “These kinds of meetings are just so helpful to be able to sit down with all the key people, particularly in the United States, and then the international folks that choose to attend,” to lay the groundwork for clinical trials for these drugs, he continued. “Most of our team that actually attends these meetings ironically doesn't go there to see data.”  

For those hoping to see new data and other research, this year’s conference won’t disappoint. The docket is chock full of over 7,200 abstracts on cancer-related research and a diverse array of topics ranging from novel payloads and targets for ADCs, to clinical trial design and grant application writing. AACR conference organizers are expecting 22,000 attendees this year, which would represent a slight bump up from last year’s 21,700. 

Graig Suvannavejh, senior biopharmaceuticals and biotechnology equity research analyst at Mizuho Americas, told BioSpace in an email that he isn’t expecting to see anything “particularly noteworthy” at this year’s conference, though he clarified that this isn’t to say there won’t be meaningful news.   

BioSpace will keep you up to date on the biggest news coming out of San Diego, beginning this weekend.  

Kate Goodwin is a freelance life science writer based in Des Moines, Iowa. She can be reached at kate.goodwin@biospace.com and on LinkedIn.  

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