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March 02, 2016

Cancer Immunotherapy 2016

En Bloc Analysis of the Publications Landscape Uncovers Trends in the Space

Cancer Immunotherapy 2016

Figure 1. Growth of the cancer immunotherapy space based on publications. [Select Biosciences]

  • There has been significant interest in the past year in cancer immunotherapy, with a number of ongoing clinical trials and extensive engagement by the pharmaceutical industry from the standpoint of developing therapeutic regimens based on our increasing understanding of the immune system and the in vivo approaches it uses to address threats such as viral infections and aberrant cells.

    Given the expanding interest in this field, we recognized the need for a complete analysis of the publications landscape of cancer immunotherapy so that we may identify trends that characterize this space and dynamics of the field.  For this reason, we parsed 16,988 publications in the broader cancer immunotherapy space (originating from both academia and industry), of which 4671 contained the term “cancer immunotherapy” in the title or abstract of the publication. We chose the latter and captured all the publications in that segment as a means to analyze the field.  In this article, we present a snapshot of our findings from these analyses.

    Figure 1 presents the number of publications in the cancer immunotherapy space in a given year.  Note the growth of this space, which in recent years has gone exponential.

  • Trends in the Cancer Immunotherapy Space

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    Figure 2. Word cloud describing the qualitative nature of the cancer immunotherapy space. [Select Biosciences]

    The overall growth of publications is a quantitative measure of the expansion of the field of cancer immunotherapy.  We also wanted to understand the qualitative nature of the publications to discern the areas of focus of the publications dataset.  Figure 2 presents a word cloud based on the titles and abstracts of the publications that constitute the cancer immunotherapy field.

    We further sought to understand the landscape of cancer immunotherapy by examining some of the key components of this field as they have grown over the past few years as a means of understanding individual components and drivers in this field.  Figure 3 presents these data and highlights the CAGR for some selected segments.

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    Figure 3. Landscape of segments in the cancer immunotherapy space. [Select Biosciences]

    The data in Figure 3 illustrates how dendritic cells dominate the publications landscape, which is to be expected.  It should also be noted that cell death (apoptosis) is an expanding theme with a CAGR of 33%. This increase is expected because one of the key tenets in the immune system is the central and essential role of apoptosis in cellular killing (cytolysis) and the cellular homeostasis that exists in vivo in the immune system.  Taken together, the data in Figure 3 is designed to illustrate the various segments of the cancer immunotherapy space, placing them into context with respect to each other.

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    Figure 4. Breakout of various cancer classes vis-à-vis cancer immunotherapy research focus. [Select Biosciences]

    Publications are an excellent means for analyzing the granular and amorphous field of cancer immunotherapy, as the field is so fragmented and there are clearly no leaders. An increasing number of companies are emerging, forging collaborations, and exploring different therapeutic modalities and combination therapies.

    We sought to understand which of the types of cancer are currently the focus of research/publication activities vis-à-vis cancer immunotherapy. Figure 4 presents this breakout.

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    Figure 5. Technology trends within the cancer immunotherapy space. [Select Biosciences]

    Note the gradient of cancer classes from the publications dataset observed, with leukemias and melanomas as the most prevalent cancer classes documented within publications.

    We went further to investigate the prevalence of other terms within our dataset of cancer immunotherapy. The data is presented in Figure 5. One of the areas of note is the expansion of the natural killer (NK) space, which is one of the key elements of the innate immune system representing a “first line” of defense.

  • Specific Genetic Elements in the Cancer Immunotherapy Space

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    Figure 6. Molecular entities mentioned in the cancer immunotherapy publications dataset. [Select Biosciences]

    As part of our analysis, we sought to determine which of the molecular elements commonly associated with immune processes are mentioned in the cancer immunotherapy body of literature.  Given the large number of these molecular entities, we set our threshold to a minimal number of publications; the data is presented in Figure 6.  Interestingly, we see a breakout of publications that we believe illustrates the penetrance of these molecular entities serving as therapeutic targets for in vivo modulation by targeted therapeutics; it also illustrates the in vivo pathways in which these molecular entities are involved. The latter enables the application of basic science to understanding the signal transduction that takes place in cells, and presumably is perturbed in cancer cells, and the modulation of these signaling pathways.

    In summary, we believe that the data in Figure 6 presents the molecular entities that are currently being studied in the context of cancer immunotherapy as a means to address and modulate components of the immune system in vivo.

  • In Summary

    In this article we have sought to present the landscape of cancer immunotherapy by examining the field from the perspective of the component publications that we believe are an excellent means for analyzing emerging fields with a limited number of products and a large number of research programs and companies.  There is much basic research in this space. The driver here is the need to understand the in vivo mechanisms and pathways that enable and drive immunological cascades in an antitumor manner.  The modulation of these cascades is a key component of current interest and research in the cancer immunotherapy space.

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    Figure 7. Breakout of clinical trials in the cancer immunotherapy space. [Select Biosciences]

    The field of cancer immunotherapy has a number of ongoing clinical trials, and Figure 7 presents a breakout by stage. Given the interest in this space and the increasing numbers of companies and collaborations, we expect more clinical trials will be initiated over the coming years.

    Finally, we believe the field of cancer immunotherapy will move toward personalized medicine wherein specific patient populations and subpopulations will be subjected to specific protocols leveraging the power of biomarkers that pinpoint which patient subpopulation[s] will be the ideal candidates for a given immunotherapeutic regimen.  In this context, it is interesting to note that anticancer cellular therapies that have been developed do, in fact, leverage the power of the patient’s genetic makeup to design and execute an optimal therapeutic strategy.  The cancer vaccine for prostate cancer, for instance, was based on a patient’s protein marker that was used to build out an antitumor regimen.  We envisage the future with companion diagnostics being used to stratify patient populations into responders and nonresponders toward a given immunotherapeutic regimen.

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    Select Biosciences is launching a conference focusing on the various elements comprising the cancer immunotherapy space in November 2016 in Boston.  This conference brings together academic researchers as well as industry participants in this space—Cancer Immunotherapy 2016.

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