ESMO at a glance
With almost 24,000 professionals visiting Madrid, attendance at ESMO 2017 was almost 20% higher than we had anticipated. The number of abstracts clocked in at 1736, of which 541 discussed clinical trials. Commercial companies were well represented among the earlier abstracts, so no significant change occurred in the number of companies. We did see a big increase in the number of abstracts from the top commercial sponsors.
In our preliminary analysis we drew attention to the large abstract volume for breast cancer with 25% of all available abstracts mentioning this TA. Now that the late-breaking abstracts are in, breast cancer dropped to about 20%. This is mainly due to a large increase in abstracts about gastrointestinal cancers. Especially colorectal cancer and stomach cancer were popular topics in the late-breaking abstracts. All in all, the abstract volumes per indication now match those of 2016 much more closely, as you can see in the next graph.
TA distribution over time
We can now compare the full abstract volumes of 2017 with those of 2016 to find the top rising and top declining indications. The overall abstract volume has increased, so rather than compare raw numbers, we will look at each year’s relative abstract volumes and compare those to estimate how much more or less popular certain indications are.
Abstract volumes have not deviated a lot from 2016 and with a mere 2% increase in relative abstract volume, stomach cancer tops the list of indications with the biggest increase in interest.
In our prior analysis, colorectal cancer was our biggest declining indication, and despite almost doubling its abstract count with late-breaking abstracts, it still makes it into the top 3 declining indications compared to 2016. The drop in lung cancer comes as something of a surprise, considering the excellent presentations on that topic.
Top sponsors at a glance
The immune-oncology players presented new successes alone and in combination with other drugs this year. Merck & Co. sees its pembrolizumab perform well in several combinations, among which the combination with IDO inhibitor epacadostat from Incyte displayed notably consistent results. Bristol-Myers Squibb continues to push its combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab forward and presented good results in kidney cancer, while AstraZeneca impressed attendees of the first presidential symposium with good data on both durvalumab and osimertinib in lung cancer.
During the third presidential symposium we saw the results of 2 competing BRAF inhibitors in stage 3 melanoma with a clear win going to Novartis‘s combination of dabrafenib + trametinib, while Roche-Genentech‘s trial on vemurafenib did not meet its primary endpoint. It would seem that the addition of the MEK inhibitor really adds to the therapy’s efficacy, an idea not missed by other competitors such as Array Biopharma. The latter company also presented encouraging data at ESMO on its BRAF + MEK inhibitor combination encorafenib + binimetinib, for which the first NDA was accepted the day after ESMO ended.
Lastly, Pfizer and Novartis are turning to combination therapies in the CDK4/6 inhibitor space with palbociclib and ribociclib respectively, whereas competitor Eli Lilly presented good, but not differentiating results on their CDK4/6 inhibitor abemaciclib.
Summary of recent developments
ESMO 2017 delivered! Cancer research is booming and the numbers reflect that, as the annual ESMO conferences continue to grow in size each year. Attendees have gained new insights, learned about the latest research efforts, and witnessed the successes and failures of compounds in several large clinical studies.
The late-breaking abstracts revealed a lot more data on compounds being tested in the clinic. The continued success of immune checkpoint inhibitors and several targeted approaches are encouraging. New targets attract a lot of attention, but we were equally impressed with the progress made on well-known targets such as EGFR.