Practice-Changing Advances in the Adjuvant Treatment of Melanoma

Excerpt:

“Adjuvant therapy for melanoma to lower the risk of disease recurrence and death in patients with high-risk disease who have undergone definitive surgical treatment has previously been administered primarily to patients with stage III disease, as well as a small group of patients with stage IV disease who could be rendered disease free surgically, according to Ahmad A. Tarhini, MD, PhD.

“These patients have unmet treatment needs. Tarhini, director, Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program and Center for Immuno- Oncology Research, Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, said that toxicities, negative effects on quality of life (QoL), and inconvenient dosing schedules have contributed to the lack of uptake of adjuvant therapy for patients with melanoma.”

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Circulating Tumor Cells and Benefit of Adjuvant Radiotherapy in Early Breast Cancer

Excerpt:

“In a study reported in JAMA Oncology, Goodman et al found that adjuvant radiotherapy was associated with better outcome in patients with early breast cancer who had detectable circulating tumor cells (CTCs).

“The analysis included data from patients with stage pT1 to pT2 and pN0 to pN1 breast cancer and known CTC status from the National Cancer Database (NCDB) from January 2004 to December 2014 and the phase III SUCCESS trial from September 2005 to September 2013.”

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First Trial of Three Aromatase Inhibitors: Similar Efficacy, Safety

Excerpt:

“The first-ever direct comparison of three adjuvant aromatase inhibitors for the treatment of postmenopausal hormone receptor–positive early breast cancer shows no significant differences in clinical efficacy or safety, according to an Italian research team.

“In the randomized, open-label phase 3 FATA-GIM3 trial of almost 3700 women, the 5-year disease-free survival for patients treated with anastrozole (Arimidex, Novartis), exemestane (Aromasin, Pfizer), or letrozole (Femara, Novartis) was 90.0%, 88.0% and 89.4%, respectively.”

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Adjuvant Vemurafenib in Resected BRAF V600–Mutant Melanoma

Excerpt:

“In the international phase III BRIM8 trial reported in The Lancet Oncology, Maio et al found inconclusive evidence of benefit of adjuvant vemurafenib treatment in patients with BRAF V600–mutant melanoma.”

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New Developments in Melanoma Treatment


Neoadjuvant (before-surgery) treatments for resectable melanoma

Neoadjuvant treatments are the mainstay in the care of patients with breast, colon, and other cancers, but have not traditionally been used in melanoma. This has changed now, with the publication of a report showing that patients with resectable stage III or IV BRAF-mutant melanoma benefit from treatment with the BRAF/MEK inhibitor drugs dabrafenib and trametinib prior to (and continued after) surgery. The randomized clinical trial that produced these findings was small, but the benefits were so obvious that the researchers had to close the control group—those patients who received a placebo instead of neoadjuvant treatment. 71% of the 14 patients in the trial who received BRAF/MEK inhibitors prior to surgery were disease-free after 18 months, whereas all seven patients in the control group experienced a recurrence. The trial is continuing without the control group: all patients will receive treatment prior to surgery

Adjuvant (after-surgery) treatments

Melanoma patients whose tumors are surgically removed experience a very high rate of recurrence. Until recently, adjuvant treatments to prevent recurrences were limited to the drug interferon alpha-2B and, more recently, ipilimumab (brand name Yervoy), an anti-CTLA-4 immune checkpoint drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FAD) for adjuvant treatment in 2015. Interferon treatment is extremely harsh, with many adverse effects, and is not often used anymore. Yervoy is often associated with autoimmune side effects, which are sometimes quite serious.

Enter nivolumab (Opdivo) the anti-PD-1 checkpoint drug approved by the FDA to treat metastatic melanoma and other cancers. A clinical trial showed that the recurrence-free survival (RFS) rate at 18 months with nivolumab was 66.4% compared to 52.7% for ipilimumab (Yervoy) in patients with resected stage IIIB/C or IV melanoma. This amounts to a 35% reduction in the risk of recurrence or death with the PD-1 inhibitor versus the CTLA-4 inhibitor. Not the least important factor is the much lower rate of side effects seen with nivolumab compared to ipilimumab. Nivolumab is now approved by the FDA as an adjuvant treatment after surgical resection of melanoma.

Pembrolizumab, a competing anti-PD-1 drug, also showed encouraging results in a randomized trial for stage III melanoma. The stakes in this trial were lower, since the control arm received a placebo (not ipilimumab!). Risk reduction was 43%, according to preliminary results of the trial.

For patients with BRAF-mutant stage III melanoma, adjuvant treatment with the BRAF/MEK inhibitors dabrafenib and trametinib was just recently granted a priority review by the FDA, signaling a likely approval soon. Recurrence-free 3-year survival was 58% for the combination versus 39% for placebo.

New treatments for metastatic melanoma

A Knowledge Blog post from last summer described new combination treatments for metastatic melanoma. There have been significant developments since then.

Several trials combined PD-1 blockers (pembrolizumab or nivolumab) with small molecules known as IDO inhibitors. The latter help shut down the activity of immune system cells known as regulatory T cells (T regs), which dampen the immune response triggered by anti-PD-1 drugs. Combination of pembrolizumab with the IDO inhibitor epacadostat increased the rate of responses to pembrolizumab from 32% to 56%. This is very comparable to the response rate seen with the FDA-approved combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab. However, the significant toxicities seen with addition of ipilimumab are not observed when IDO inhibitors are added. Several other competing IDO inhibitors are currently in trials with both pembrolizumab and nivolumab. Importantly, there is also hope that these drug combinations may abolish resistance to PD-1 blockers in previously treated melanoma patients.

Another promising combination has been tested in a small clinical trial of nivolumab with NKTR-214, a specifically modified form of the protein IL-2, which is a strong activator of the immune system. High-dose IL-2 is a drug that has long been approved for metastatic melanoma but is rarely used because of the extremely serious adverse effects. NKTR-214 is a modified (PEGylated) IL-2 that has much reduced side effects, and does not activate inhibitory T regs. Clinical trial results have been released for 11 melanoma patients treated with the combination. Of the patients enrolled, 73% have experienced objective responses, which is obviously much higher than what is seen with nivolumab alone. This trial is now enrolling patients who have or have not already been treated with immune drugs.

Patients who were treated with anti-PD-1 drugs and experience progression may consider enrolling in trials that add relatlimab (an anti-LAG3 immune drug) to nivolumab. In a trial that enrolled heavily pretreated patients who failed on previous treatment with anti-PD-1 drugs, the rate of response was 11.5%, but many more patients (38%) have achieved stable disease. The presence of LAG3 protein (but not PD-L1 protein) in the tumors was predictive of response.

There are other new drugs to watch. TLR9 agonists (activators) have shown early promising results in melanoma. TLR is a group of receptors that are strongly involved in innate immunity. A recent publication showed that intratumoral injection of a TLR9 activator with an antibody to OX40 (a protein on T cells) has extraordinary activity in a mouse cancer model. Trials that combine anti-OX40 and TLR9 agonists are forthcoming. However, two TLR9 agonists, SD-101 and IMO-2125, have shown very promising results in combination with anti-PD-1 or anti-CTLA4 drugs.

The other drug with early promise is ImmunoPulse IL-12 (pIL-12). In combination with pembrolizumab, it induced responses in 43% of patients who had not been previously treated with immune drugs. The important point is that patients in this trial were specifically selected to have a tumor profile that is associated with lack of response to pembrolizumab. pIL-12 is injected into tumors, so this intervention is appropriate for patients who have injectable tumors.

New BRAF/MEK inhibitors for melanoma have emerged: encorafenib and binimetinib produced a 3-year overall survival rate that is twice as high as seen with vemurafenib, a BRAF inhibitor. The comparison is not exactly meaningful because vemurafenib is not used as a single drug in BRAF-mutant melanoma these days, but this phase III trial was initiated back in 2013, prior to the approval of other BRAF/MEK combinations. The new combination may be approved mid-2018.

The triplet combinations for BRAF-mutant melanoma should be mentioned (immune plus targeted drugs). A trial that combined dabrafenib and trametinib with pembrolizumab reported early success, with a confirmed response rate of 67% in 15 patients who received the combination.


Adjuvant Nivolumab Granted FDA Approval for Melanoma

Excerpt:

“Nivolumab (Opdivo) has received FDA approval for the adjuvant treatment of patients with completely resected melanoma with lymph node involvement or metastatic disease.

“The approval is based on findings of the randomized phase III CheckMate-238 trial, in which the recurrence-free survival (RFS) rate at 18 months with nivolumab was 66.4% (95% CI, 61.8%-70.6%) compared with 52.7% (95% CI, 47.8%-57.4%) for ipilimumab (Yervoy) in patients with stage IIIB/C or stage IV melanoma after surgery. There was a 35% reduction in the risk of recurrence or death with the PD-1 inhibitor versus the CTLA-4 inhibitor (HR, 0.65; 95% CI, 0.53-0.80; P <.0001).”

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Adjuvant Nivolumab Granted FDA Approval for Melanoma

Excerpt:

“Nivolumab (Opdivo) has received FDA approval for the adjuvant treatment of patients with completely resected melanoma with lymph node involvement or metastatic disease.

“The approval is based on findings of the randomized phase III CheckMate-238 trial, in which the recurrence-free survival (RFS) rate at 18 months with nivolumab was 66.4% (95% CI, 61.8%-70.6%) compared with 52.7% (95% CI, 47.8%-57.4%) for ipilimumab (Yervoy) in patients with stage IIIB/C or stage IV melanoma after surgery. There was a 35% reduction in the risk of recurrence or death with the PD-1 inhibitor versus the CTLA-4 inhibitor (HR, 0.65; 95% CI, 0.53-0.80; P <.0001).”

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Breast Cancer Patients Forego Post-Surgery Treatment Due to Mistrust, Study Suggests

Excerpt:

“Nearly one-third of women with breast cancer went against their doctor’s advice and chose not to begin or complete the recommended adjuvant anti-cancer therapy to kill residual tumor cells following surgery, according to a study led by a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researcher.

“A survey that included 2,754 breast cancer patients in Florida and Pennsylvania during a two-year period found that this ‘treatment discordance’ – not following a doctor’s recommended treatment plan in its entirety – was more likely among patients who reported a general distrust of medical institutions and insurers. The patients’ trust or distrust of their own doctors did not seem to be a factor.”

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Adjuvant Ipilimumab in Melanoma: Future in Doubt

Excerpt:

“The future of adjuvant ipilimumab (Yervoy, Bristol-Myers Squibb) for the treatment of resected stage III melanoma could be in doubt, as a combination of ‘astronomically high’ costs and better outcome data with another treatment threaten its position as the standard of care, argues an expert.

“Ipilimumab, a monoclonal antibody that blocks CTLA-4, was shown to significantly improve recurrence-free and overall survival vs placebo when used after surgery. These data, from the EORTC 18071 trial, led to its approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an adjuvant therapy for patients with stage III melanoma in October 2015. This extended its original approval in 2011 to treat late-stage melanoma in patients who are not candidates for surgery.”

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