Adding Radiation Treatments to Inoperable Lung Cancer Increases Survival by up to One Year

Excerpt:

“Patients with unresectable, or inoperable, lung cancer are often given a dismal prognosis, with low rates of survival beyond a few years. Researchers exploring combination therapies have recently discovered improved survival rates by up to one year when patients treated with a newly formulated chemotherapy regimen are also given radiation therapy.

“A group of patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer (mNSCLC) who had already been enrolled in a clinical trial were given radiation therapy, in addition to their treatment with a novel chemotherapy formulation, mPEBev, which was designed for its immune-modulating and anti-angiogenic effects. The mPEBev regimen is composed of fractionated cisplatin, oral etoposide, and bevacizumab, a monoclonal antibody that inhibits blood vessel growth in the tumor. Treatments were administered metronomically, spaced out in the safest possible doses to reduce side-effects and toxicity.”

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EGFR-mutant NSCLC: Choice of First-Line Treatment May Get More Complicated


Medical guidelines for treatment of newly diagnosed non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) mandate upfront testing of tumor tissue for mutations in the EGFR gene (as well as ALK and ROS gene translocation). EGFR mutations are found in 10 to 15% of white patients, but in patients of East Asian origin such mutations are in encountered in approximately 48%. However, with new data and drugs entering the playing field, newly diagnosed patients’ treatment decisions could become more complex.

There is a good reason to test for EGFR mutations: the accumulated data show that, compared to first-line chemotherapy, treatment with drugs that inhibit the activity of EGFR in patients with activating EGFR mutations improves patients’ median progression-free survival (PFS) time from 4.6 to 6.9 months to 9.6 to 13.1 months, and has a higher objective response rate (ORR). Moreover, EGFR inhibitors are associated with a significantly lower incidence of adverse effects and better control of disease symptoms.

About 90% of EGFR mutations in EGFR are deletions in a portion of the gene known as exon 19 or a mutation in exon 21 (these mutations are known as del19 and L858R, respectively). The remaining mutations include alterations in exons 18 and 20, and these are associated with poor response to EGFR inhibitors.

The presence of the EGFR mutations del19 or L858R usually prompts doctors to prescribe one of the three EGFR inhibitors approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a first-line treatment: erlotinib (Tarceva), gefitinib (Iressa), or afatinib (Gilotrif). Erlotinib and gefitinib are first-generation EGFR inhibitors, and afatinib is a second-generation drug. The first-generation inhibitors bind EGFR reversibly (they can attach and detach), whereas second generation inhibitors like afatinib bind to EGFR in an irreversible manner. All three inhibit not only the mutated EGFR protein, but also the normal EGFR that performs essential functions in some normal tissues. Afatinib also inhibits other members of the EGFR family of proteins (HER2 and HER4).

It is worth noting that none of these three drugs improve overall survival, with one exception, which I discuss later. The major side effects of EGFR inhibitors are skin rash and diarrhea, and the latter can be more severe with afatinib. In general, side effects are usually manageable and often transient, and by now, doctors have acquired much experience on how to alleviate them. Also, dose reductions to reduce side effects are possible with erlotinib and afatinib (but not with gefitinib). Gefitinib in general has lower risk of toxicities.

The choice between the three available inhibitors may depend on several factors: the oncologist’s preferences, the patient’s general condition, and importantly, the precise EGFR mutations identified in the patient’s tumor(s).

The del19 mutation is known to have the highest response rate to EGFR inhibitors amongst all EGFR mutations. A direct comparison in a large clinical trial showed an ORR of 72.5% with afatinib and 56% with gefitinib. There was no difference in PFS, but there was a trend in prolongation of overall survival with afatinib (27 versus 24 months).

Therefore, patients with del19 who are in a good overall condition should be given afatinib. The prevailing opinion is that gefitinib should be given to frail or older patients, or patients with other health concerns.

EGFR mutations other than L858R or del19, such as exon 20 insertions or exon 18 mutations, respond poorly to erlotinib and gefitinib. Patients whose tumors have these mutations do not have good treatment options, but are usually treated with afatinib, which has been shown to have better activity then first-generation inhibitors. There are now drugs in clinical trials specifically for patients with exon 20 insertions: a combination of poziotinib and AP32788, and osimertinib.

Obviously, the choice between the three FDA-approved first-line drugs requires careful consideration. However, it is apparently about to become a lot more difficult, with new contenders for first-line treatment in EGFR mutant NSCLC coming onto the scene. A combination of erlotinib with bevacizumab, a drug that limits blood supply to tumors, has already shown a superior PFS of 16 months versus 10 months with erlotinib alone. Another, and likely a stronger candidate, is osimertinib (Tagrisso), a third-generation inhibitor that does not bind to normal EGFR. Osimertinib is already FDA-approved for treatment of NSCLC with an EGFR mutation known as T790M.

T790M is very rarely found in untreated lung cancer, but arises during treatment with FDA-approved EGFR inhibitors in about 40 to 60% of patients, making them resistant to further treatment with first/second generation EGFR inhibitors. Osimertinib was developed to treat patients with T790M and has a reported ORR of 61%, which is very impressive. This is much higher than what is seen with chemotherapy in patients with resistance to first-line EGFR inhibitors: in a direct comparison in the AURA3 trial, a response rate of 71% was seen with osimertinib versus only 31% with chemotherapy. Moreover, osimertinib has activity (albeit much lower) even in the absence of a T790M mutation after resistance to erlotinib or gefitinb develops.

This latter feature led to testing of osimertinib as a first-line treatment in EGFR-mutant NSCLC. The trial included 60 patients who received two different doses of the drug, and the average ORR was 77%, with a median PFS of 20.5 months. These PFS data are much better than what is seen with any of the three FDA-approved first-line EGFR inhibitors (10 to 12 months).

There is a much larger trial ongoing, named FLAURA, which directly compares osimertinib with erlotinib or gefitinib in the frontline setting for patients with advanced EGFRmutant NSCLC. There is little doubt that the results, when published, would favor osimertinib, and this has been already announced in a press release issued by the trial sponsor.

It is possible that the FDA will approve osimertinib as the first-line treatment option for EGFR-positive NSCLC, which will make the choice of first-line drug difficult. What is better: sequence the available drugs, i.e., start with erlotinib followed by osimertinib when resistance develops (if T790M is identified), or give osimertinib outright?

Doing a simple calculation, erlotinib first may provide PFS of 9-13 months, followed by osimertinib (if T790M is present), adding another 10 months. Osimertinib given as first line can provide 20 months PFS. However, resistance to approved first-line EGFR inhibitors involves T790M in 40 to 60 % of patients, so perhaps it is more useful to use osimertinib right away? Not an easy question to answer. It would be wonderful if data could be somehow collected for the many patients who were treated with erlotinib, developed T790M mutation, and switched to osimertinib, rather than to conduct randomized trials. But this is unlikely to happen.


Guideline on Stage IV Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer Therapy Updated

Excerpt:

“An update of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) clinical practice guideline clarifies the role of immunotherapy in the treatment of patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The update also provides new recommendations on the use of targeted therapies for patients with changes in tumor EGFRALK, and ROS1 genes.

” ‘Treatment for lung cancer has become increasingly more complex over the last several years. This guideline update provides oncologists the tools to choose therapies that are most likely to benefit their patients,’ said Nasser Hanna, MD, co-chair of the Expert Panel that developed the guideline update.”

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FDA Grants Orphan Drug Designation to Tesevatinib for EGFR-Mutated Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Excerpt:

“The FDA granted orphan drug designation to tesevatinib for the treatment of EGFR-positive non-small cell lung cancer, according to the drug’s manufacturer.

“An ongoing phase 2 clinical trial will evaluate tesevatinib (Kadmon Holdings) — an oral tyrosine kinase inhibitor — for the treatment of patients with EGFR-positive NSCLC that metastasized to the brain or the leptomeninges. The trial also will evaluate the agent for the treatment of glioblastoma.”

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Better Results in NSCLC with Higher Dose of ALK Inhibitor

Excerpt:

“Doubling the dose of the ALK inhibitor brigatinib (Alunbrig) improved outcomes in patients with crizotinib (Xalkori)-refractory non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), a dose-comparison study showed.

“Patients who started treatment at 90 mg/day and titrated to 180 mg/day had improved response rate (54% versus 45%) and progression-free survival (PFS) as compared with those who received 90 mg throughout the treatment period. Response in brain metastases improved by 50% with the higher dose.”

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FDA Grants Genentech’s Alecensa Priority Review for Initial Treatment of People with ALK-Positive Lung Cancer

Excerpt:

“Genentech, a member of the Roche Group (SIX: RO, ROG; OTCQX: RHHBY), announced today that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accepted the company’s supplemental New Drug Application (sNDA) and granted Priority Review for Alecensa® (alectinib) as an initial (first-line) treatment for people with anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK)-positive, locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) as detected by an FDA-approved test. The FDA will make a decision on approval by November 30, 2017.

” ‘Phase III results showed Alecensa reduced the risk of disease worsening by more than half compared to the current standard of care and lowered the risk of tumors spreading to or growing in the brain by more than 80 percent,’ said Sandra Horning, M.D., chief medical officer and head of Global Product Development. ‘We are working closely with the FDA to bring this medicine as an initial treatment for people with ALK-positive NSCLC as soon as possible.’ ”

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Proton Tx Plus Chemo Seen Beneficial in NSCLC

Excerpt:

“The use of proton beam radiotherapy and concurrent chemotherapy may improve clinical outcomes for patients with inoperable stage III non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), while reducing the toxic effects of treatment, researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Center have found.

“The researchers, led by Joe Y. Chang, MD, PhD, reported that the median overall survival of 26.5 months observed in their study ‘was encouraging, and in accord with our original statistical goal of 24 months.’ ”

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Tagrisso Significantly Improves Progression-Free Survival in the Phase III FLAURA Trial for Lung Cancer

Excerpt:

“AstraZeneca today announced that the Phase III FLAURA trial showed a statistically-significant and clinically-meaningful progression-free survival (PFS) benefit with Tagrisso (osimertinib) compared to current 1st-line standard-of-care treatment (erlotinib or gefitinib) in previously-untreated patients with locally-advanced or metastatic epidermal growth factor receptor mutation-positive (EGFRm) non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

“Sean Bohen, Executive Vice President, Global Medicines Development and Chief Medical Officer at AstraZeneca, said: ‘The strong results from the FLAURA trial are very exciting news for patients with EGFR mutation-positive non-small cell lung cancer, providing physicians with a potential new first-line treatment option to improve outcomes in this disease. We will now initiate discussions with global health authorities on the data and regulatory submissions.’ ”

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Atezolizumab Response Tied to Selected PD-LI Expression in NSCLC

Excerpt:

“Atezolizumab (Tecentriq) monotherapy produced substantial response rates as first-line or subsequent treatment in patients who had advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with confirmed programmed cell death ligand 1(PD-L1) expression, reported the phase II BIRCH trial.

“Atezolizumab therapy produced a 22% objective response rate in first-line treatment, 19% in second-line, and 18% in third-line or higher in patients with PD-L1 expression on ≥ 5% of tumor cells (TC) or tumor-infiltrating immune cells (IC), according to Enriqueta Felip, MD, PhD, of Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, Spain, and colleagues. Patients with the highest levels of PD-L1 expression — TC3 or IC3 — had better objective response rates: 31% in first-line, 26% in second-line, and 27% third-line or higher.”

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