Immunotherapy Duo Improves Survival in Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer

Overall survival was improved in metastatic pancreatic cancer patients through an innovative immunotherapy strategy in a multicenter study reported at the 2014 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium.

“ ‘This is the first time a randomized study has shown that immunotherapy is effective in pancreatic cancer,’ said Dung T. Le, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Baltimore. ‘This is just a first step, and we believe we’ll be able to take this approach further.’ ”

“The novel treatment, which may be better tolerated than standard chemotherapy, involves two different anticancer vaccines: GVAX Pancreas followed by CRS-207. GVAX is composed of pancreatic cancer cells that have been genetically modified to secrete granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), which stimulates the immune system. GVAX is given with low-dose cyclophosphamide to inhibit regulatory T cells and boost the vaccine’s efficacy. The second vaccine, CRS-207, is live-attenuated Listeria monocytogenes (Lm), which has been genetically modified to be safe for human use while retaining its ability to stimulate an immune response against the protein mesothelin on pancreatic tumor cells.

“The combination essentially trains the body to recognize and attack pancreatic tumors. In mouse tumor models, Lm/GVAX vaccines are synergistic, and in a phase I study of CRS-207, patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma who had received prior GVAX lived more than 15 months, Dr. Le explained.”

Editor’s note: Immunotherapy treatments work by boosting a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. This story describes such a treatment, which combines two “cancer vaccines” called GVAX Pancreas and CRS-207. Scientists found promising results for the treatment in pancreatic cancer patients.


Palbociclib Plus Letrozole Extended PFS in Metastatic Breast Cancer

“The addition of palbociclib to letrozole during first-line treatment significantly extended PFS in post-menopausal patients with ER-positive, HER-2–negative advanced breast cancer, according to final results of a randomized, open-label, phase 2 trial presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting.

“Palbociclib (PD-0332991, Pfizer), an inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK) 4 and 6, prevents DNA synthesis by blocking cell cycle progression. Results of preclinical studies showed HR-positive breast cancer cells are dependent on CDK-4/6 for growth, and a phase 1 study showed the combination of palbociclib and the antiestrogen drug letrozole appeared to be a safe, effective combination.”

Editor’s note: “PFS” stands for “progression-free survival.” It refers to a period of time in which a cancer patient does not experience worsening of his/her disease. In the clinical trial described here, a combination of two drugs —palbociclib and letrozole—extended PFS for some people with ER-positive, HER-2-negative advanced breast cancer.


AACR: LY2835219 Promising for Metastatic Breast Cancer

“The novel cell cycle inhibitor selective for the cyclin-dependent kinases CDK4 and CDK6 (CDK4/6), LY2835219, shows promise for metastatic breast cancer, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, held from April 5 to 9 in San Diego.

“Amita Patnaik, M.D., from South Texas Accelerated Research Therapeutics in San Antonio, and colleagues conducted a phase I study with expansion cohorts to assess the safety, pharmacokinetics, and antitumor activity of LY2835219 in five tumor types. LY2835219 was administered to the expansion cohorts (132 patients) every 12 hours on days one to 28 of a 28-day cycle.”

Editor’s note: LY2835219 is a new drug that shows promise for treating metastatic breast cancer.


Revolutionary Clinical Trial Aims to Advance Lung Cancer Treatment Thanks to Cancer Research UK and Pharma Partnership

“Cancer Research UK is partnering with pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer to create a pioneering clinical trial for patients with advanced lung cancer – marking a new era of research into personalised medicines to treat cancer.

“The ‘National Lung Matrix’ trial – scheduled to open later this year at centres across the UK – will give researchers unprecedented access to libraries of drugs developed by AstraZeneca and Pfizer, allowing several to be tested at the same time, within one trial.

“Researchers will use the genetics of each lung tumour to identify small groups of patients who, because of the specific genetic changes causing their cancer, are more likely to benefit from a certain drug.”

Editor’s note: Genetics and DNA testing are increasingly used to provide patients with personalized cancer treatments. Learn more about personalized approaches to lung cancer.


Survival Hope for Melanoma Patients Thanks to New Vaccine

“University of Adelaide researchers have discovered that a new trial vaccine offers the most promising treatment to date for melanoma that has spread, with increased patient survival rates and improved ability to stop or reverse the cancer.

“The vaccine, known as vaccinia melanoma cell lysate (VMCL), was given regularly as a treatment to 54 South Australian patients with advanced, inoperable melanoma over a 10-year period.”

Editor’s note: The cancer vaccine VMCL is a type of immunotherapy, which means it boosts a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer.


Nintedanib Combined With Docetaxel Is Effective Second-Line Option for Advanced NSCLC

“The combination of nintedanib and docetaxel ‘is an effective second-line option’ for patients with advanced non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who have received previous treatment with one line of platinum-based therapy, according to results from the phase III LUME-Lung 1 study published in The Lancet Oncology. The combination improved progression-free survival for patients with refractory NSCLC irrespective of histology when compared to docetaxel (Taxotere) plus placebo, and ‘significantly prolonged overall survival of patients with adenocarcinoma, including patients with poor prognosis (ie, those who had progressed within 9 months of start of first-line therapy),’ Martin Reck, MD, Lung Clinic Grosshansdorf, Germany, and colleagues reported for the LUME-Lung 1 Study Group.”


Chemotherapy May be Better for Certain Patients with Advanced Lung Cancer

“Among patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer without a mutation of a certain gene, conventional chemotherapy, compared with treatment using epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors, was associated with improvement in survival without progression of the cancer, but not with overall survival, according to a study.”

Editor’s note: The drugs discussed in this story, “epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitors,” are targeted therapies that are used to treat lung cancer patients whose tumors have mutations in the EGFR gene, as detected by molecular testing. Scientists wanted to find out whether the drugs could also help patients without EGFR mutations. However, it was found that the drugs were no more effective than chemotherapy in improving patients’ overall survival. This supports the idea that EGFR inhibitor drugs should only be given to patients whose tumors have EGFR mutations.


Experimental Drug Shows Early Promise for Some Cases of Advanced Melanoma

“An experimental cancer drug that activates the immune system has shown early promise for advanced cases of melanoma skin cancer, researchers report.

“The findings come from an early stage trial of just 31 patients. But experts were cautiously optimistic about what the study showed: The drug’s side effects were manageable, and four patients saw their tumors shrink.

“That’s a small number, but a trial like this is largely aimed at seeing whether a drug is safe and finding a tolerable dose.”

Editor’s note: This story is about a new melanoma drug called IMCgp100 that is being tested in patients. Learn more about immunotherapy drugs and clinical trials for melanoma here.


Study Identifies Potential Predictor of Clinical Outcome in Patients With Lung Cancer Treated With the Investigational Immunotherapy MK-3475

“Among patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) treated with the investigational immune checkpoint inhibitor MK-3475, those whose tumors had high levels of the protein PD-L1 had significantly better outcomes, according to results of a phase I clinical trial presented here at the AACR Annual Meeting 2014, April 5-9.

“Preliminary data from the trial, which were reported earlier this year, showed that MK-3475 treatment was well tolerated and led to durable, objective responses in previously treated patients with NSCLC, particularly those with tumors found to have high levels of PD-L1 prior to treatment. 

“The latest results extend these data, showing that at six months after starting treatment, 41 percent of patients whose tumors had high levels of PD-L1 had no disease progression, compared with 17 percent of those whose tumors had low levels of PD-L1. Similarly, 72 percent of patients whose tumors had high levels of PD-L1 were alive at this time, compared with 53 percent of those whose tumors had low levels of PD-L1.”

Editor’s note: MK-3475 is an immunotherapy drug, which means it boosts a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. This study found that it was more effective in patients whose tumors had high levels of the protein PD-L1, as detected by molecular testing. To learn more about immunotherapy treatments for lung cancer, visit this blog post.