Targetable Mutations in NSCLC: More Testing Needed!

Diagnosis of adenocarcinoma of the lung, a major subtype of non-small lung cancer (NSCLC), nowadays triggers mandatory testing of tumor tissue for alterations in four genes: EGFR, ALK, ROS1, and more recently, BRAF. If present, these alterations predict sensitivity to specific targeted drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that work better and often longer than standard chemotherapy, and are better tolerated.

However, there are many more targetable/actionable genomic alterations (also known as “drivers”) in NSCLC. This blog post will briefly discuss most of them, with the goal of promoting molecular testing for more than the four “usual suspects” mentioned above. Some patients with these alterations may benefit from FDA-approved drugs or from enrollment in clinical trials that are testing additional drugs and drug combinations. Continue reading…

Adding Tivantinib to Standard Erlotinib Treatment Improved Outcomes for Specific Subgroup of Patients with Lung Cancer

“Adding the investigational anticancer therapeutic tivantinib to standard erlotinib treatment substantially increased progression-free survival for patients with advanced nonsquamous non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who had tumors positive for epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene mutations, according to a subset analysis of data from the phase III MARQUEE clinical trial presented at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics, held Nov. 5–9.

” ‘EGFR inhibitors like erlotinib are effective treatments for patients with advanced NSCLC with and without EGFR mutations,’ said Wallace Akerley, MD, director of thoracic oncology at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. ‘However, tumors invariably develop resistance. MET overexpression is associated with resistance to EGFR therapy, and the phase III MARQUEE clinical trial set out to investigate whether adding the MET inhibitor tivantinib to erlotinib treatment could improve patient outcomes.’ “

ArQule Announces Positive Top-Line Results of NIH-Sponsored Phase 2 Trial of Tivantinib in Prostate Cancer

The gist: A drug called tivantinib is showing some promise for treating patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer. Tivantinib was compared to a placebo in a clinical trial with volunteer patients. In the trial, patients who took tivantinib went for a longer time without their cancer worsening that patients who took the placebo.

“ArQule, Inc. (ARQL) today announced positive top-line results from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase 2 clinical trial of tivantinib as a single agent in metastatic prostate cancer. This trial ( identifier NCT01519414) was conducted under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program (CTEP) (‘A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Phase 2 Study of ARQ 197 (tivantinib) in Men with Asymptomatic or Minimally Symptomatic Metastatic Castrate Resistant Prostate Cancer,’ NCI Protocol # 8986). The principal investigator was J. Paul Monk, M.D. of The Ohio State University, Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

“In this trial, 78 patients were randomized 2 to 1 to receive either tivantinib as a single agent or placebo. During a pre-planned analysis, it was found that the trial met its primary endpoint of improving median progression-free survival (PFS) with tivantinib alone as compared to placebo. The results were highly statistically significant. Safety data were consistent with those observed in other trials of tivantinib.

“The results of the trial are the subject of ongoing analyses and will be submitted by the investigators for presentation at a future medical conference. As final data emerge from this trial, ArQule and its partner, Daiichi Sankyo Company, Limited, will discuss with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the potential for additional trials in this indication.

“ ‘We are pleased that these significant findings from the NIH trial in prostate cancer add to the body of clinical evidence of the anti-cancer activity of tivantinib across multiple tumor types,’ said Paolo Pucci, chief executive officer of ArQule.”

Interim Results from Lung Cancer Clinical Trial of Tivantinib Remain Ambiguous

An ongoing clinical trial is evaluating the effects of cancer drug tivantinib in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The trial studies patients with advanced non-squamous NSCLC who do not have any mutations in the EGFR gene. Patients receive erlotinib (Tarceva) either by itself or in combination with tivantinib. Enrollment in the trial was stopped because rates of interstitial lung disease (ILD), which can cause lung scarring, may be higher in patients receiving tivantinib. (No such increased levels of ILD were seen in a different trial using tivantinib.) For the patients already enrolled, overall survival, time without cancer worsening, and percentage of patients experiencing tumor shrinkage all seem increased in tivantinib-treated patients. However, it is not yet clear whether these effects are indeed caused by tivantinib or are due to chance.

MET Inhibitor Fails to Prolong Life in NSCLC Trial

A clinical trial of a MET inhibitor has been stopped because the drug doesn’t keep people with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) alive longer, researchers reported at the 2013 European Cancer Congress in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The phase III trial included 1,048 people with NSCLC, where half were given the MET inhibitor tivantinib, in combination with erlotinib, which inhibits a protein linked to abnormal cell division. Although tivantinib did not extend life, it did keep tumors from growing for awhile (3.6 mo with this drug vs 1.9 mo without it). Now, the researchers are analyzing the results to see if tivantinib benefitted people with tumors that make too much of the MET protein.

Tarceva May Be More Effective in Advanced NSCLC When Combined with Other Targeted Therapies

An analysis of multiple clinical trials compared erlotinib (Tarceva) alone to combining Tarceva with other targeted therapies as second-line treatment for advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In the various trials, Tarceva was combined with bevacizumab (Avastin), bortezomib (Velcade), everolismus (Afinitor), sorafenib (Nexavar), sunitinib (Sutent), entinostat, tivantinib, and R1507. While combined therapy produced more side effects, it was more effective than Tarceva alone. Notably, the trials included many patients who had not been tested for mutations in the EGFR and KRAS genes. In patients who had EGFR mutations and/or lacked KRAS mutations, Tarceva alone tended to control cancer progression better than combined therapy, highlighting the importance of biomarker testing to identify which patients are most likely to benefit from different therapies.

Avastin-Containing Chemotherapy May Be Safe in Lung Cancer Patients with Brain Metastases

Bevacizumab (Avastin), which is approved for treatment of a number of advanced-stage cancer types, is commonly avoided in patients with brain metastases (cancer that has spread to the brain) because of fear of brain hemorrhages (bleeding in the brain). A retrospective study of 52 patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who had received chemotherapy containing Avastin found no cases of serious bleeding events and no significant differences in survival or treatment side effects between patients with or without brain metastases. Avastin may therefore be a safe treatment option in NSCLC with brain metastases.

Research paper:

Overexpression of IGF1R and EGFR Genes May Worsen Lung Cancer Prognosis

The roles of the genes IGF1R and EGFR in lung cancer were examined in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who had their primary tumor surgically removed. Patients whose tumors had increased expression of both IGFR1R and EGFR were more likely to experience recurrence of the cancer after a shorter amount of time and had shorter survival times after surgery. This finding suggests that concurrent overexpression of IGF1R and EGFR is a negative prognosis factor in NSCLC and may indicate patients who are more likely to benefit from novel treatments with IGF1R inhibitors.

Research paper:

Study Suggests Iressa Effective for Elderly Patients with EGFR-Mutant Lung Cancer

A retrospective study in Japan examined 55 patients aged 75 years or over with inoperable non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who had a mutation in the EGFR gene and received gefitinib (Iressa) as first-line therapy. The treatment was generally well tolerated and patients experienced longer periods without cancer progression (median: 13.8 months) and longer overall survival (median: 29.1 months) than commonly reported for similar patients. While studies using control groups will need to confirm that Iressa is indeed more effective than standard chemotherapy or a placebo, these findings suggest that Iressa may be a preferable first-line treatment in elderly patients with advanced EGFR-mutant NSCLC.

Research paper: