Dual Neoadjuvant Checkpoint Blockade Feasible in Melanoma

Excerpt:

“Combination neoadjuvant immune checkpoint blockade therapy yielded promising outcomes in high-risk resectable melanoma, although toxicity was an issue, according to a phase II trial.

“The combination of ipilimumab (Yervoy) and nivolumab (Opdivo) led to improved progression-free survival (PFS), distant metastasis-free survival (DMFS), and overall survival (OS) versus neoadjuvant nivolumab monotherapy in 23 patients with high-risk resectable melanoma, reported Jennifer A. Wargo, MD, of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and colleagues in Nature Medicine.”

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Neoadjuvant Nivolumab was Safe, Yielded Pathologic Responses in Patients With Resectable Lung Cancer

Excerpt:

“The anti-PD1 immunotherapy nivolumab (Opdivo) given prior to surgical resection of stage 1-3 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) was safe and resulted in major pathological responses in 45 percent of the patients, according to data from a clinical trial presented at the AACR Annual Meeting 2018, April 14-18.

“A major pathologic response is defined as 10 percent or fewer viable cancer cells detectable in the resected tumor following neoadjuvant treatment.”

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Neoadjuvant Endocrine Therapy Ideal for Some Breast Cancer Patients

Excerpt:

“Endocrine therapy can achieve tumor reduction for patients with ER-positive breast cancer, possibly avoiding the need for chemotherapy or even surgery in some patients; however, deciding how long to continue this therapy can be tricky, said Hyman B. Muss, MD, who presented at the 2018 Miami Breast Cancer Conference.

” ‘It can improve the probability of breast preservation for women who would appropriately fit in [related] studies and don’t have very high-grade or aggressive tumors,’ said Muss, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, and a 2017 Giants of Cancer Care® winner. ‘The optimal duration is 3 to 6 months. I think it’s [also] worth considering this in postmenopausal women with larger tumors.’ ”

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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.


Research Is Changing the Game for Melanoma Treatment

Excerpt:

“Wilmot Cancer Institute patients with advanced melanoma (stage III) now have more options for treatment, thanks to research co-authored by a University of Rochester Medical Center surgical oncologist and published in The Lancet Oncology.

“The study involved comparing two treatment approaches for high-risk melanoma patients with a BRAF gene mutation in their cancer: standard care, which calls for upfront surgery, or giving a two-drug, targeted therapy regimen before surgery and again afterward. Patients in the latter group had longer disease-free survival in the Phase 2 trial, and after seven months researchers halted the study earlier than expected due to the positive results.”

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Neoadjuvant Nivolumab/Ipilimumab Combo Effective but Toxic for Melanoma

Excerpt:

“Neoadjuvant treatment with the combination of nivolumab (Opdivo) and ipilimumab (Yervoy) demonstrated almost a tripling in objective response rate (ORR) compared with the PD-1 inhibitor alone but at the cost of significant added grade 3 adverse events (AEs) for patients with high-risk resectable melanoma, according to a small study presented at the 2017 SITC Annual Meeting.

“In the combination arm (n = 11), the ORR was 73% and 50% of patients achieved a pathological complete response (pCR). With nivolumab alone (n = 12), the ORR was 25% and the pCR rate was 25%. Unfortunately, these gains in response were accompanied by 73% of patients in the combination arm having a grade 3 AE compared with just 8% in the single-agent arm. This high level of toxicity led the researchers to close the study early, according to Sangeetha M. Reddy, MD, MSci. Reddy worked on this trial with co-investigators Rodabe Amaria, MD, and Jennifer Wargo, MD.”

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Dual HER2 Blockade Alone Yields Worse pCR in Early HER2-Positive Breast Cancer

Excerpt:

“A new randomized trial found that neoadjuvant trastuzumab/pertuzumab alone yields a substantially worse rate of pathologic complete response compared with trastuzumab/pertuzumab plus paclitaxel in women with early, HER2-positive, hormone receptor (HR)-negative breast cancer.

” ‘Pathologic complete response (pCR) after neoadjuvant [therapy] has strong prognostic impact in HER2 disease,’ wrote study authors led by Ulrike Nitz, MD, of the West German Study Group GmbH in Moenchengladbach, Germany. The WSG-ADAPT HER2+/HR− trial assessed whether dual blockade with trastuzumab and pertuzumab could achieve similar rates of pCR in those with strong early response to dual blockade along with chemotherapy.”

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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…


Neoadjuvant Dabrafenib/Trametinib Leads to High pCR Rates in Bulky Resectable Melanoma, But Recurrences Are Common

Excerpt:

“Phase II results demonstrated that nearly half of patients with resectable stage IIIB/C BRAF V600-mutant melanoma achieved pathologic complete response (pCR) with neoadjuvant combination therapy consisting of dabrafenib (Tafinlar) and trametinib (Mekinist). Additionally, no patients experienced disease progression during the neoadjuvant treatment, said Alexander M. Menzies, MD, who presented the data at the 2017 ESMO Congress in Madrid.

” ‘Nearly 50% of our patients had a complete eradication of their melanoma at the time of surgery. Fifty percent had some remaining melanoma in the surgical specimen, but every patient had some degree of tumor shrinkage on therapy,’ said Menzies, a medical oncologist and senior research fellow at Melanoma Institute Australia in Sydney, Australia. ‘These are patients who otherwise would just have surgery and then have observation. And, these are patients who are at very high risk, probably the highest risk of recurrence without further therapy.’ ”

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