Taking cancer care personally can make a world of difference

Cancer claims 10 million lives prematurely each year. Boehringer Ingelheim understands what’s at stake and is committed to developing treatments that will transform cancer care.

At some point in our lives, most of us will experience a loved one struggling with cancer ... or suffer from it ourselves. Such first-hand experiences motivate many of the researchers at Boehringer Ingelheim and underlie their dedication to oncology and cancer treatment.

“Nearly all of us have somehow been impacted by this disease. That makes this something bigger than just a job. It gives us the determination and inspiration to team up to accelerate life-changing science.”

Norbert Kraut, Global Head of Cancer Research at Boehringer Ingelheim

The team has identified a range of unmet needs in oncology, and Kraut believes that Boehringer’s people and culture are uniquely suited to exploring solutions tailored to the characteristics of specific types of cancer, as well as to the individual needs of those living with cancer.

“Our independent structure fosters a long-term commitment to the patient’s greatest needs … but it also lets us live our curiosity as scientists and follow science. I believe that, together, these produce the spark that makes innovation happen.”

Norbert Kraut, Global Head of Cancer Research at Boehringer Ingelheim

Innovating to create a robust pipeline of treatments

By living their curiosity, Boehringer’s scientists have developed a robust oncology pipeline that draws on a diversity of mechanisms of action.

For example, T-cell engagers harness the immune system’s ability to detect and destroy tumors by attaching themselves to specific proteins expressed by cancer cells. In one ongoing clinical study, a new T-cell engager called BI 764532 shows great promise as a way to fight cancer cells that express the delta-like ligand 3 (DLL3) protein on their surface, such as small cell lung cancer and other metastatic neuroendocrine carcinomas.

Other recent breakthroughs have emerged from precision oncology, which targets key drivers and hallmarks to kill cancer cells directly.

One new drug that takes this approach is an MDM2-p53 antagonist, now undergoing a pivotal trial for the treatment of dedifferentiated liposarcoma, or DDLPS, a very rare and aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis and no new first-line treatment options for almost 50 years.

Another drug now being developed by Boehringer that relies on precision oncology is a highly selective and potent small molecule inhibitor that binds to the HER2 protein. The gene that encodes for the HER2 protein is an important oncogene, i.e., a potential cancer causer, and alterations in the gene can turn HER2 into a cancer driver for non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The condition is diagnosed in roughly 40,000 people every year.

Teaming up to transform cancer care

These advances have been achieved not in isolation, but in collaboration with other scientists and organizations. The complex challenges presented by cancer call for a diversity of ideas and specializations – which is why Boehringer has built up a strong network of research partners.

Together, the members of this network are leveraging innovations in drug discovery and data analytics to expand their ability to study information drawn from large-scale functional screening in cancer models. Further insights are being drawn from large quantities of anonymized data provided by clinics and biobanks.

Deploying the latest computational techniques will make it possible to build a comprehensive catalogue of cancer drivers and other key cancer dependencies. This work can also pinpoint biomarkers that may help identify patients who will benefit the most from specific compounds. Such biomarkers can also assist in dose selection, explaining mode of action, guiding potential treatment combinations, understanding resistance mechanisms and informing the next generation of treatments.

In one of its most ambitious research projects, Boehringer is working with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to target the oncogene with the highest mutation rate, KRAS, whose name comes from it having been initially identified in Kirsten rat sarcoma virus. KRAS is associated with highly fatal cancers such as pancreatic, NSCLC and colorectal cancer. The publication of an article in Nature in May 2023 on targeted therapy marks a step on the long path to conquering this “Everest of oncogenes,” which scientists have been pursuing for four decades now.1

Moreover, Boehringer’s partnerships seek to address challenges presented by health equity and patient access. As new treatments emerge, it is essential to ensure that patients around the globe have access to them and information about them. Boehringer is working with patient organizations such as SPAGN, UICC and GLCC to help people learn about their diseases and the available treatment options. These efforts also raise awareness about the importance of early detection.

1Kim, D., Herdeis, L., Rudolph, D. et al. Pan-KRAS inhibitor disables oncogenic signalling and tumour growth. Nature 619, 160–166 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06123-3

The work of delivering life-changing, best-in-class treatments will continue to inspire the people of Boehringer. Their determination is driven not simply by a desire to help patients live better and longer lives, but by the need to give hope to their families and friends. Carinne Brouillon, Head of Human Pharma at Boehringer Ingelheim, sums up Boehringer Ingelheim’s sense of mission: “Cancer presents us with an exceptionally complex and challenging scientific puzzle. The medical community is committed to solving that puzzle because of the huge impact it has on our communities, our loved ones and ourselves.”

“We are all
in this

Carinne Brouillon, Head of Human Pharma at Boehringer Ingelheim