ESMO: Day 3 Recap

At ESMO 2017, Sunday, September 10th was the day with the largest number of genitourinary (GU) cancer presentations, including two kidney cancer and urothelial cancer highlights in the Presidential Symposium, many poster presentations, and two poster discussion sessions. We’ve broken down the full day of research updates by cancer type.

Kidney Cancer

ESMO_CheckMate 214In the Presidential Presentation on kidney cancer, results were presented from the CheckMate-214 trial. Nivolumab is an anti-PD1 antibody approved for patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) previously treated with a VEGF-targeted therapy based upon a randomized trial demonstrating an overall survival benefit. The combination of using immune checkpoint inhibitors transitioned from laboratory science to safety studies to full approval in melanoma based upon randomized trials. The CheckMate 214 study tested the efficacy of the combination of nivolumab plus ipilimumab versus one of the most standard VEGF multikinase inhibitors, sunitinib, in previously untreated patients with advanced RCC. The study focused on the intermediate/poor risk population, but also enrolled patients with good risk disease. The study met its endpoints in an impressive fashion. In the target intermediate/poor risk population, the immune checkpoint inhibitor combination led to an improved response rate and overall survival benefit versus the active drug sunitinib. Nine percent of patients had a “complete response” with the combination immunotherapy (meaning complete disappearance of all evidence of cancer on scans). In addition, the entire patient population (with patients in all prognostic groups combined) experienced an improvement in both response and overall survival with immunotherapy.  There were some interesting exploratory analyses of subgroups and the PD-L1 expression status that will lead to additional investigation, but the study will lead to a paradigm shift and create a new standard of care for patients with advanced RCC.

In the Alliance-led A031203 “CaboSun” study, patients with intermediate and poor-risk advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) were randomized to receive either cabozantinib or sunitinib. The initial results of the study as assessed by the investigative team showed a benefit of cabozantinib over sunitinib in terms of the trial’s primary endpoint of overall survival. One previous caveat of the study was that interpretation of scans by investigators who are also the treating physicians can be biased. An updated analysis added independent review of scans as well as longer follow up. The progression-free survival benefit of cabozantinib was confirmed by independent review and the magnitude of benefit was increased with longer follow up.

Approximately a third of patients with advanced RCC have bone metastases and this may be a negative indicator of prognosis (also known as a “negative prognostic factor”). Radium-223 is an FDA approved agent for men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer and predominant bone metastases that has been shown to benefit overall survival. A team of investigators from Boston assessed whether adding radium-223 to standard sunitinib or pazopanib would also benefit patients with kidney cancer. The combined treatment was determined to be safe and and markers in the blood and urine indicating that the bone is breaking down – a measure of bone metastases – improved with treatment. Additional randomized trials are needed to assess the true effect of this combination on overall survival.

Bladder and Urothelial Cancer

ESMO_RANGEDuring the ESMO Presidential Presentation on urothelial cancer, results from the RANGE clinical trial were presented. The utility of chemotherapy is limited in patients with advanced urothelial carcinoma whose cancer has progressed after initial platinum-based chemotherapy. Ramicurimab is a monoclonal antibody against the angiogenic factor receptor VEGF-R2. We performed a randomized phase II trial pointing towards a response and progression-free survival benefit with the addition of ramicurimab to docetaxel chemotherapy in this patient population. The RANGE study is a phase III study in which patients with advanced platinum-resistant urothelial carcinoma, with or without treatment with an immune checkpoint inhibitor, were randomized to docetaxel with ramicurimab or placebo. This phase III trial confirmed the benefit of ramicurimab when added to docetaxel in improving progression-free survival and response rate. In addition, there was no significant additional toxicity with the combination, also referred to as a doublet. We await the final overall survival results and additional analyses to assess the place of this combination in our growing treatment armamentarium for urothelial carcinoma.

Several studies examined the genetic material (genome) of tumors in patients with urothelial carcinoma. In a large clinical trial including more than 2000 patients with advanced urothelial carcinoma, investigators utilized the FoundationOne platform to assess the tumor genome of a mix of primary and metastatic tumors arising from the bladder, renal pelvis, and ureters. The study described the landscape of this disease using the targeted sequencing platform, showing a relationship between some common alterations (such as genes for Her2 and PI3K) and a higher rate of overall mutations or “tumor mutational burden” (also referred to as “TMB”).  An analysis of the Checkmate-275 study which led to the approval of nivolumab in patients with progressive urothelial carcinoma after chemotherapy looked at tumor mutational burden and survival outcomes. Higher tumor mutational burden was associated with both better response and survival in patients treated with nivolumab, a form of immunotherapy called an anti-PD1 checkpoint inhibitor. This result was independent of PDL1 status – a specific measure of this a type of mutational burden–  but perhaps stronger in PDL1 low tumors.

Dr. Scott Tagawa, Medical Director of the WCM/NYP Genitourinary Oncology Program, presented a research update regarding patients with advanced urothelial carcinoma who were treated with sacituzumab govitecan (IMMU-132)  after prior chemotherapy. This drug, which links an antibody against Trop2 (which is usually present to a high degree in urothelial carcinoma compared to normal cells) to a potent chemotherapy metabolite, was administered to 41 patients with cancer progression despite an average of three prior treatment regimens. Significant tumor shrinkage (i.e. partial or complete responses) occurred in 34% of patients. In addition, median progression free survival of approximately 7 months and overall survival of approximately 16 months was impressive compared to the expected rates for this patient population.

Prostate Cancer

Prior prostate cancer research has demonstrated strong links within family trees, and as a result, there has been a large push for research to identify where exactly in the genetic profile this risk comes from and whether these genes are passed down through ancestry. In the UK Genetic Prostate Cancer Study (UKGPCS), investigators performed a case-control study of men with and without germline (inherited) DNA damage response and repair genes (those responsible for repairing the DNA of cells in the body) identified in their 167 gene panel. Like in other studies, those with germline alterations had worse cancer-specific outcomes and overall survival rates. Notably across studies, the presence of these inherited genes is not limited to men diagnosed at an early age, so a discussion with physicians about the risks/benefits of genetic testing should be considered.

Our collaborator Dr. Armstrong of Duke University presented research analyzing PSA changes in the PREVAIL trial which led to the FDA-label expansion of enzalutamide for men with mCRPC and no prior chemotherapy. As he and others have previously demonstrated with other drugs such as docetaxel and abiraterone, a lack of PSA decline while on treatment was associated with a poor outcome.

ESMO_ValeTwo presentations focused on men with hormone-sensitive high risk and advanced prostate cancer.

Dr. CL Vale from the UK presented an analysis of data available from randomized trials which pointed towards abiraterone + androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) having a large early relative survival benefit of 37% after 3 years, and docetaxel + ADT having a smaller, but still large and significant 23% survival impact after additional follow up for 4 years.

In prostate cancer, there is a “TNM” staging system that indicates the size range of the primary tumor (T), whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (N), whether there are signs that the cancer is metastatic and has spread elsewhere in the body (M). When there are no signs of distant metastases, the corresponding staging is “M0” which translates to M zero, or no metastases. ESMO_M0_ProstateCancer

Dr. Nicholas James from the UK presented data on the “M0” population of 915 men without distant metastatic disease receiving abiraterone + ADT versus ADT with or without radiation as part of the STAMPEDE study. In the overall group with M0 disease, so far there have not yet been any detectable differences in survival, which is not surprising since this subset of men tend to live for a long time while on therapy. There were though, important improvements in the amount of time to cancer growth or the development of metastatic disease. In those men with clinically evident lymph node metastases at diagnosis (corresponding to the symbol “N”), the combination of all three treatments — abiraterone, ADT, and radiation — demonstrated a significantly better survival benefit than those treated with ADT + radiation, which was in turn better than ADT alone.

Additionally, new information on interesting early phase clinical trials was also presented at ESMO.

At Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, we participated in a clinical trial utilizing INO-5150, a DNA vaccine against PSA and PSMA. This vaccine was administered with electroporation (essentially a small electric shock at the injection site) and with or without INO-9012 (an IL-12 vaccine) designed as an adjuvant treatment to improve immune responses to the INO-5150 treatment. Men who received either one or both vaccines had few side effects other than skin reactions at the injection site and many developed immune responses. Additional study is warranted to test anti-tumor efficacy.

EC1169 is comprised of a small molecule PSMA ligand linked to a tubulysin drug. Updated data were presented in this trial where men with metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) who had both received and not received prior chemotherapy were treated with EC1169. As more men were treated on trial, researchers were able to document safety and tolerability of the drug, while demonstrating the drug’s ability to control the cancer, particularly in men who had previously received docetaxel chemotherapy.

In prostate cancer, one of the mechanisms of resistance to hormonal therapy is activation of the PI3K/AKT pathway. GSK2636771 is a PI3K inhibitor that was tested in a phase I study by adding the drug to enzalutamide in men with mCRPC who had experienced some cancer progression while taking enzalutamide alone. Importantly, the trial demonstrated that GSK2636771 was safe and a signal of efficacy was present in the small trial. Additional studies are planned which will be adding the drug to enzalutamide to truly test its ability to control cancer growth. Of note, the PI3K pathway is indicated in the formation and growth of numerous cancers and was discovered by our cancer center director, Lewis Cantley, PhD.

Check out our prior ESMO 2017 Day 1 and Day 2 Recaps.

ESMO 2017: Day 2 Recap

IMG_3948The second day of ESMO included the oral genitourinary (GU) oncology session that focused on renal cell (kidney) and urothelial (bladder) carcinoma.

Several years ago, the SWITCH study evaluated the sequence of sunitinib and sorafenib showing similar overall progression free survival and overall survival regardless of the order by which each drug was utilized. At ESMO 2017, results of the SWITCH-II trial were presented. This study tested the sequence of pazopanib and sorafenib in patients with advanced RCC of any histology (i.e. clear cell or non-clear cell).  The study sought to enroll 544 patients, but stopped after 377 patients due to slow accrual. Only half of the patients remained on study and switched to their assigned drug after tumor growth on drug #1. Overall, while the study didn’t complete planned accrual, there was a trend for improved progression-free and overall survival for the pazopanib → sorafenib sequence.

Historically when most patients were treated with cytokines (IL-2 and interferon), two randomized trials by U.S. and European cooperative groups showed that in the setting of metastatic kidney disease, patients live longer by first removing the kidney mass and then treating with interferon rather than treating with interferon without removal of the kidney. Since the introduction of new therapies in late 2005 which have higher rates of tumor shrinkage and longer lifespans for patients, it is unknown if patients should still have their kidney tumor removed prior to drug therapy.

IMG_3954In the EORTC 30073 SURTIME trial, European investigators decided to try to assess whether tumors remained under control longer and patients lived longer if surgery was performed first or if patients initiated sunitinib for 3 cycles prior to cytoreductive nephrectomy. Because enrollment was slow, the study design was changed to assess the percent of patients that were free of tumor progression at 28 weeks. Ninety-nine patients were randomized to immediate versus delayed surgery, most with large kidney tumors and intermediate-risk cancer. Overall there was no difference in the percent with cancer progression at 28 weeks with either approach.  With the caveat of a small study, there were trends for longer survival and less surgical complications in those with delayed surgery. While the amended study is not able to prove that delayed surgery is the better approach, it gives comfort for those physicians/patients that the choice to initiate medical therapy and then re-evaluate for surgery is acceptable. We await the results of the larger CARMENA study that is testing surgery followed by drug versus drug alone (with no surgery) to see if removal of the primary kidney tumor is necessary.

Additionally, two early-phase studies of novel drug combinations of immunotherapy + targeted therapy were presented. In a phase I study led by the NCI, the safety of the combinations of cabozantinib/nivolumab and cabozantinib/nivolumab/ipilimumab were tested in patients with a number of different treatment-refractory tumor types, especially urothelial and other types of bladder cancers. Overall, both combinations were deemed to be safe and are moving forward in a phase III trial. However, many toxicities did occur and most patients needed to reduce the dose of at least one drug so these combinations should only be used in a clinical trial setting.

IMG_3958The phase II portion of a phase I/II study testing the combination of lenvatinib + pembrolizumab. The initial (phase 1) portion of the study presented at ESMO 2016 determined the safe dose in patients with different types of tumors (mostly RCC). This year, new results were presented with 22 additional patients added to the 8 previously treated on the phase I portion. Overall, there was an impressive tumor response rate of 63%, with 83% significant tumor shrinkage in those patients treated in the 1st line setting. This combination is also being tested in a phase III study for patients with advanced RCC which will soon be opening at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian.

Missed our Day 1 Recap of ESMO 2017? Check it out here.

Is Chemo The Best Bladder Cancer Treatment For All?

DR. SCOTT TAGAWA AND DR. BISHOY FALTAS

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The bladder is a muscular organ made up of several layers of cells. This image outlines the bladder, ureters and surrounding vessels.

State-of-the-art cancer care continues to evolve due to advances in all aspects of patient care – including diagnosis, and personalized treatment and management. By incorporating novel diagnostics, systemic therapies, molecular targeted therapies, immunotherapies, and other biotechnological strategies into treatment paradigms, patient outcomes continue to improve along the cancer continuum.

For patients with bladder cancer and other urothelial cancers (cancers of the bladder, renal pelvis and ureter), cisplatin-based chemotherapy remains the standard of care. This is based on decades of research through a series of randomized clinical trials showing that chemotherapy regimens containing cisplatin consistently lead to the best overall survival rates. Importantly, some patients with metastatic urothelial cancer who are treated with cisplatin-based regimens are cured.

However, cisplatin is hard on not just the cancer cells, but the body overall. As a result, not all patients are “fit” for cisplatin. There are standard criteria that are used to define patients for whom cisplatin is not a viable treatment option. These include kidney (renal) function as measured by a blood test and sometimes urine tests, performance status (a measure of how physically functional patients are), hearing loss, nerve damage (neuropathy/numbness), and heart failure. Some of the time, there may be trade-offs. For instance, some patients would trade off the risk of needing a hearing aid for a higher chance of tumor shrinkage (or even cure).

While it is well-known among physicians that not all bladder cancer patients are candidates for this treatment option, questions linger regarding what the best treatment option should be for these patients. To get to the bottom of this question, we reviewed the scientific evidence and Dr. Scott Tagawa recently presented our findings to a large group at the 34th annual Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium (CFS). This conference brought together over 2,000 cancer care clinicians across a multidisciplinary spectrum to provide updates on the most cutting-edge new agents, ongoing clinical trials and emerging developments in cancer treatment and diagnosis.

What did the science show?

According to recent data presented at the 2016 European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) meeting, the most common alternative treatment regimen for patients who are well enough to tolerate chemotherapy is the combination of carboplatin and gemcitabine chemotherapies. This was based on the review of data from 1426 patients with advanced urothelial carcinoma who were treated with chemotherapy.

Interestingly, there were some other global trends in the types of chemo prescribed. Centers that treated fewer patients with urothelial cancers were more likely to give alternative (non-cisplatin) chemotherapy to patients that did not meet any standard criteria for being unfit. The most common reason for being deemed unfit for cisplatin was the patient’s current level of kidney function. Unfortunately, data showed that patients who were fit for cisplatin, but received alternative chemotherapy lived much shorter than those who received cisplatin, and none of those patients in the study were alive at the 5-year mark.

One setting where cisplatin-based chemotherapy is very important is in the pre-operative setting where the goal is cure rather than just prolongation of life by months to years. Physicians should be aware of some “tricks of the trade” to optimize kidney function and other parameters to maximize the chance for cisplatin administration and cure. For patients, it’s important to consider at least getting a consultation at a center of excellence before making a treatment decision.

We also recently wrote an editorial in The Lancet outlining the value of immunotherapy for patients with advanced urothelial cancers who are unfit for cisplatin, and in particular checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy. While not currently FDA-approved for this indication, a study using atezolizumab (Tecentriq) was published in this prestigious journal with a second supportive study utilizing pembrolizumab (Keytruda) presented at the ESMO meeting in October. Both studies used monoclonal antibodies that enable the immune system to become activated and fight cancer, and both demonstrated substantial responses in a subset of patients. Studies of the tumor and surrounding tissue testing for PDL1 expression are able to predict those with a higher likelihood of response, but even those with “negative” testing can respond. Tests of tumor genomics are also able to group tumors into those with a higher likelihood of response, but again, even those in the lower immune responding group can have a long-term response to immune treatment. Ongoing studies are needed to help predict response in a more powerful manner. One issue that we’ve recently examined is the difference in tumor genomics before and after chemotherapy highlighted by Dr. Faltas’ high-impact publication on the clonal evolution of urothelial cancer. Among other things, this highlights the importance of obtaining recent tissue from metastatic sites to gain the most accurate understanding of an individual patient’s tumor biology.

In summary, it is important for physicians to recognize when a patient may or may not safely receive certain chemotherapy regimens, such as cisplatin combinations in the case of urothelial carcinoma. In addition, research is ongoing for patients that are unfit for certain types of chemotherapy to prove whether or not immunotherapy should be used in patients who have not yet received chemotherapy. Several immunotherapy drugs are currently being tested in randomized clinical trials and these include patients that are unfit for cisplatin. Additionally, other drugs such as antibody-drug conjugates or monoclonal antibodies have shown promising activity in patients with advanced urothelial carcinoma, and these studies included patients unfit for cisplatin.