Predicting If an Immune Checkpoint Drug Will Work


Drugs that activate the immune system to attack cancer in a process known as immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) are a focus of intense investigation. A number of them are already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for various cancers; namely, the anti-CTLA4 antibody ipilimumab (Yervoy), two anti-PD-1 antibodies: pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo), and three anti-PD-L1 drugs: atezolizumab (Tecentriq), avelumab (Bavencio) and durvalumab (Imfinzi). These ICB drugs have the potential to induce durable cancer regressions, but the majority of cancer patients just do not respond to them at all.

Biomarkers, signature molecules in the blood or other tissue, can sometimes be used to predict a patient’s response to a given treatment. But no reliable biomarkers exist for ICB, and this is a serious concern. Patients who may really benefit from ICB could be overlooked, and patients who are not likely to respond may receive useless (and very expensive) ICB treatment.

Most potential response predictors that have already been identified are not yet useful for one or all of the following reasons: they are not extensively validated, their significance is still uncertain and may differ from one cancer (or even one patient) to another, or they are technically challenging for routine use. These markers are addressed below. Continue reading…


Immunotherapy Continues Growth With Trials in mCRPC

Excerpt:

“Although modern immunotherapy has yet to have a breakthrough in prostate cancer to the degree it has had in lung cancer or urothelial carcinoma, combinations with anti–PD-1/PD-L1 agents are beginning to show promise for these patients in clinical trials.

“Currently ongoing is a phase II trial of durvalumab (Imfinzi) in combination with the PARP inhibitor olaparib (Lynparza) in patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC; NCT02484404). Investigators note that previous data have suggested that 25% to 30% of sporadic mCRPC has DNA-repair pathway defects. Results thus far have demonstrated that the synergy of durvalumab and olaparib proves that the combination may be a viable option for patients with mCRPC who are heavily pretreated. The trial is still accruing.”

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A Gut Feeling: Bacteria in Your Gut May Affect Cancer Treatment


The human gut contains hundreds of species bacteria, which are known to contribute to various bodily functions (such as digestion, of course!) but they also shape our immune system. Now, recent research has revealed how our microbiomes (the abundant bacteria living in our bodies) may affect the efficacy of immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) in cancer treatment.

How it started: about two years ago, an American group of scientists led by Thomas Gajewski of the University of Chicago noticed that melanoma (and some other cancers’) growth in mice was influenced heavily by the type of bacteria found in the mouse gut. They worked with mice purchased from two different vendors, and realized that mice from one vendor had consistently slower-growing tumors. Bifidobacterium bacteria present in the mouse gut were pinpointed to be the culprit, because transfer of Bifidobacterium to mice that did not have it was able to slow down melanoma growth. Treatment with an immune anti-PD-L1 drug was effective in mice that had the bacteria, but not in mice lacking it. Continue reading…


IMpower150 Trial Delays Progression in Advanced NSCLC With Atezolizumab/Bevacizumab Combo

Excerpt:

“In topline results announced from the phase III IMpower150 trial, atezolizumab (Tecentriq) in combination with bevacizumab (Avastin) and chemotherapy delayed progression or death when compared with bevacizumab and chemotherapy alone for patients with advanced nonsquamous non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

“The co-primary endpoints for the IMpower150 study were progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS). Although exact numbers have not yet been released, Roche, the manufacturer of the anti–PD-L1 and anti–VEGF agents, called the reduction in progression or death with the addition of atezolizumab a ‘clinically meaningful reduction’ in a press release. At the interim analysis, data for OS were not yet mature, with the company labeling the findings as ‘encouraging.’ ”

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Relatlimab/Nivolumab Combo Active in Melanoma After PD-1/PD-L1 Therapy

Excerpt:

“Half of patients with melanoma who progressed on anti–PD-1/PD-L1 therapy benefited from the combination of nivolumab (Opdivo) and the LAG-3 inhibitor relatlimab (BMS-986016), data from a dose-expansion study showed.

“The combination led to objective responses in 7 of 61 evaluable patients, increasing to 18% in a subgroup of patients LAG-3–positive tumors. Half of all patients treated and two-thirds of those patients with LAG-3–positive tumors derived clinical benefit, as reported at the 2017 ESMO Congress.”

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New Trends in Pre-Surgery Treatments for Breast Cancer


Non-metastatic breast cancers are most often treated with surgery, but if the tumors are fairly large, or involve nearby lymph nodes, neoadjuvant (pre-operative) treatments with chemotherapy (NAC) are done first. NAC often reduces the tumor size and kills cancer cells in lymph nodes, if present, prior to surgery, improving the outcome. The best possible result of neoadjuvant treatment is pCR (pathologic compete response), when the tumor is no longer visible in imaging studies. Here, I review the new directions in which neoadjuvant treatments are evolving.

Today, treatments for metastatic breast cancers are tailored for specific subtypes. Starting with the introduction of the drug trastuzumab (Herceptin) for HER2-positive cancers, new, more specific treatment options were eventually developed and approved for other types as well. Estrogen deprivation endocrine therapies, lately prescribed in combination with CDK4/6 inhibitors, are used in estrogen receptor (ER)-positive cancers. Triple negative cancers (TNBC) are still treated mostly with chemotherapy, but immune checkpoint drugs and PARP inhibitors are explored in clinical trials, with some successes reported.

However, neoadjuvant treatments (except for HER2+ cancers) remain largely limited to chemotherapy regimens. This is starting to change now, with new approaches tailored to the cancer type being investigated in clinical trials.

In this regard, it is important to mention the I-SPY2 trial, NCT01042379, which started in 2010 and is for women with stage II-III breast cancer. It offers about a dozen drugs that are chosen based on particular features of the newly diagnosed cancers. This trial has a unique design and has produced some important results. Additional treatments and trials for various types of breast cancer are discussed below. Continue reading…


Immune Checkpoint Agents Advance in Breast Cancer

Excerpt:

“With the prospect of phase III data that could confirm their efficacy, checkpoint inhibitors against PD-1 and PD-L1 have shown promise, both as monotherapies and in combination with chemotherapy for patients with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), Sylvia Adams, MD, said during a presentation at the 16th Annual International Congress on the Future of Breast Cancer East.

” ‘We think there is definitely value for immune checkpoint blockade in triple-negative disease. When you look at the metastatic trials, while the response rates are relatively low, most of the responses are durable,’ said Adams, from the NYU Langone Medical Center. ‘For patient selection, it is important to consider the line of therapy. The earlier the better.’ ”

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Immune-Cell Numbers Predict Response to Combination Immunotherapy in Melanoma

Excerpt:

“Whether a melanoma patient will better respond to a single immunotherapy drug or two in combination depends on the abundance of certain white blood cells within their tumors, according to a new study conducted by UC San Francisco researchers joined by physicians from UCSF Health. The findings provide a novel predictive biomarker to identify patients who are most likely to respond well to a combination of immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors—and to protect those who won’t respond from potentially adverse side effects of combination treatment.

” ‘Combination immunotherapy is super-expensive and very toxic,’ said Adil Daud, MD, director of Melanoma Clinical Research at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and senior author of the new study. ‘You’re putting patients at a lot of extra risk if they don’t need it, and you can adjust for that risk by knowing in advance who can benefit.’ ”

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ASCO 2017: Breast Cancer Treatment News


Last month, the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting took place in Chicago. Thousands of oncologists, patients, and journalists gathered to learn about the most recent developments in cancer research and treatment. Here are some breast cancer highlights from the meeting:

Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is considered more responsive to treatment with immune checkpoint drugs than any other type of breast cancer. So far, these drugs have primarily been explored in metastatic TNBC, in combination with chemotherapy. The combination of “anti-PD-L1” and “anti-PD-1” immune checkpoint drugs with chemotherapy has now been examined in early-stage TNBC, in which a breast tumor can be surgically removed after neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Continue reading…