ASCO 2017: Genitourinary (GU) Oncology Highlights

ASCO Logo PhotoEach year, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting brings together more than 30,000 oncology professionals. At this year’s meeting in Chicago, physicians and scientists presented the latest research findings in an effort to bring the best cancer treatments to patients across the United States and the world. We’ve outlined some of the genitourinary (GU) oncology highlights, broken down by disease type.

At this year’s meeting, there was also some important research presented related to communication, quality of life and survival. In a study that involved patients with GU cancers, as well as those with other types of tumors, patients were randomized to two groups: 1) a control group of standard care 2) a group to utilize a web-based patient-reported outcome questionnaire between visits. Results from any answers completed in the online system were sent to the treatment team in real time. In this study, the patients that were randomized to the online questionnaire group experienced better quality of life. In addition, these patients lived longer, with a 17% improvement in survival simply by using the online tracker reporting symptoms to their treatment team between visits. While the study was only conducted at a single institution, it underscores the importance of communicating and relaying any symptoms to your treatment team members responsible for your medical care (generally physicians, nurses and advanced practitioners).

Prostate Cancer:

The results from two large phase 3 clinical trials will lead to a change in the standard of care treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer. The LATITUDE and STAMPEDE trials investigated the addition of abiraterone and low dose prednisone to standard androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) for men with advanced prostate cancer. Similar to the unprecedented results presented at ASCO in 2014 (CHAARTED) and 2015 (STAMPEDE) with the use of docetaxel chemotherapy, a major improvement in overall survival was demonstrated, improving length of life by nearly 40%. The results from these studies will provide an additional treatment option for men presenting with advanced prostate cancer.

For men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC), a randomized phase 2 trial demonstrated no significant differences in the efficacy, or effectiveness, of abiraterone or enzalutamide, two of the leading treatments for prostate cancer that is resistant to hormonal therapy. This research finding was consistent with most clinicians’ belief that either drug may be utilized, allowing physician and patient choice. Importantly, the study incorporated a number of interesting biomarkers using circulating tumor cell (CTC) DNA from a liquid biopsy, and the data gleaned from the DNA revealed prognostic insights about disease aggressiveness and biology. Another study showed a lack of utility to continue enzalutamide after disease progression, confirming the current practice of switching treatments after cancer growth.

Interesting data using the PARP inhibitor veliparib was presented. In a randomized phase 2 trial, the combination of veliparib and abiraterone was not better than abiraterone alone overall, but for tumors with DNA damage repair defects, there was a difference. This adds to the anticipation of results from the many ongoing randomized trials that are testing PARP inhibitors in molecularly selected patients.

Additional data was presented on genomic signatures from prostate tissue, which in combination with clinical data, are more powerful in indicating prognosis in men who receive treatment for clinically localized (low stage / early) prostate cancer.

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Dr. Himisha Beltran

Prostate cancer acquires resistance to systemic treatment as a result of tumor evolution and selection, but repeat biopsies to study how cancers evolve are challenging, invasive, and may be confounded by tumor heterogeneity. Dr. Himisha Beltran evaluated a non-invasive approach: whole exome sequencing of circulating tumor DNA in the blood. Additional data utilizing circulating tumor cell (CTC) counts as an early indicator of response may speed drug development. Clinical trials are currently evaluating measuring circulating tumor cell counts as a biomarker for whether or not treatments are working. This may be a better indicator than measuring levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA), the current indicator for response.

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Dr. Scott Tagawa presents an update on the 177Lu-PSMA-617 clinical trial for men with metastatic prostate cancer.

Dr. Scott Tagawa presented a trial-in-progress update about the clinical trial he is leading at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian utilizing the small molecule lutetium 177Lu-PSMA-617 to target prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA). PSMA is a protein abundantly expressed in 85-90 percent of metastatic prostate cancer cells, and this is the first U.S. trial of its kind. Learn more about this radionuclide therapy-based clinical trial and the eligibility criteria.

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Dr. Loredana Puca

Additionally, there were many research updates presented in the area of neuroendocrine prostate cancer (NEPC), an aggressive subtype of prostate cancer that is resistant to many traditional treatment types. Dr. Loredana Puca received a Merit Award from the Conquer Cancer Foundation for her research examining the potential use of antibody-drug conjugate rovalpituzumab tesirine for treatment of NEPC. View the abstract and learn more about our open clinical trial using this antibody-drug conjugate. Dr. Himisha Beltran highlighted the significance of the loss of tumor suppressor ZFP36 in prostate cancer patients.

Prostate cancer was the first tumor type to have a cancer vaccine (sipuleucel-T) lead to longer survival, but the drug’s activity may be limited on its own. In a randomized phase 2 trial, receiving sipuleucel-T in combination with indoximod – a drug with the potential to improve immune response – kept the cancer at bay more than twice as long compared to those who received sipuleucel-T plus a placebo. This was an exciting research update showing promise for patients with prostate cancer.

New research using tumor and liquid (blood-based) biopsies demonstrated that a majority of tumors and circulating tumor cells in men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer express a protein called Trop-2, justifying a targeted treatment approach. With this knowledge, we are now evaluating the safety and efficacy of IMMU-132, an immunotherapy-based drug that targets Trop-2, in an open clinical trial for men with prostate cancer.

Bladder Cancer and Other Urothelial Cancers:

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Dr. Bishoy Faltas presents on “Unlocking the Genome: Insights Into Risk and Response in Bladder Cancer” at the ASCO 2017 Clinical Science Symposium.

Dr. Bishoy Faltas was invited to present at the ASCO Clinical Science Symposium entitled “Expanding the Actionable Landscape: Bladder Cancer Genomics — Unlocking the Genome: Insights Into Risk and Response in Bladder Cancer.”

During this session, Dr. Faltas discussed the genomics of urothelial cancer, and highlighted the latest research describing new data on the frequency of inherited (germline) mutations as well as tumor (somatic) genomics and relationship to response to chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Patients with “upper tract” urothelial cancer (tumors arising in the kidney or ureter) in particular have a higher chance of harboring an inherited mutation. Different genomic alterations in the tumors may be separated into groups that are associated with better responses to chemotherapy and immunotherapy. This is becoming more clinically relevant as we can test for these genes and the number of treatment options is expanding.

Additionally, updated results of the KEYNOTE-045 study confirmed the overall survival benefit of the anti-PD1 immune checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab (Keytruda) compared to second-line chemotherapy in patients with prior platinum-based chemotherapy. Importantly, this was the first head-to-head trial to demonstrate the superiority of immunotherapy over chemotherapy in urothelial cancer.

Dr. Scott Tagawa contributed to the investigation of a novel oral targeted chemotherapeutic agent called RX-3117 in advanced bladder cancer patients. Learn more about our open clinical trial with RX-3117.

Kidney Cancer (Renal Cell Carcinoma):

Several different combination studies for the treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) were presented at the 2017 ASCO Annual Meeting. While some studies demonstrated promising response data, significant toxicity of some combinations underscored the importance of clinical trials and the recommendation to avoid combinations outside of the research setting, which is regulated and in which these types of side effects can be monitored. Several randomized phase III trials testing combination therapy are ongoing with results anticipated to lead to changes in standard of care.

Unfortunately, despite imaging that indicates no evidence of cancer metastases (spread), many patients are not cured with surgery alone. Treatment of many cancers incorporate the use of systemic (medical) therapy in addition to surgery to increase cure rates. For the most part, this strategy has not been overwhelmingly successful in the setting of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Unfortunately, another “negative” phase III trial showed that the addition of pazopanib (Votrient) to surgery did not improve cure rates for patients with RCC. Additional data was presented utilizing either clinical or genomic biomarkers that may assist physicians in choosing patients that might benefit from the addition of the oral drugs following surgery. We continue to await the results of additional completed studies and some currently enrolling studies utilizing immunotherapy before/after surgery.

AACR 2017: PSMA Update

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Jaspreet Batra presents this research at AACR 2017

At the 2017 Annual Meeting for the Annual Association for Cancer Research (AACR), we presented research highlighting how we’re targeting PSMA – a marker on the surface of most prostate cancer cells – with radioimmunotherapy to kill cancer cells.

Radioimmunotherapy involves attaching radioactive particles to targeted immunotherapies that go directly to the cancer cells. The monoclonal antibody we use is called J591 and will bind only to PSMA. In this research, we attached the radioactive isotope actinium-225 (225Ac) to J591. We have used J591 linked with lutetium 177 (177Lu) and yttrium 90 (90Y) to treat patients in many clinical trials in the past. We believe that since 225Ac is an alpha particle emitter with much greater energy released that each individual antibody will lead to more tumor cell death. In our experimental models presented at the 2017 AACR meeting, 225Ac-J591 was not significantly more toxic than control (similar to placebo) in mice without tumors. When we treated mice with prostate cancer tumors, there was significant tumor killing following a single injection of 225Ac-J591.

Given our long history of administering radiolabeled J591 to hundreds of men in different clinical trials, we have plans to launch a phase I dose-escalation clinical trial (to determine safe doses and later look at tumor response) later this year. We and others are quite enthusiastic about this approach.

Immunotherapy and Prostate Cancer: What You Should Know

Cancer CureImmunotherapy, broadly defined as using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, is one of the most exciting developments in cancer care. In oncology, for some patients using an immunotherapy treatment approach has resulted in some deep and prolonged responses.

The field of genitourinary (GU) oncology one was of the first sub-specialty areas to utilize immunotherapy and compared to many other tumor types, GU oncology has been using it for the longest amount of time — particularly for kidney (renal) and bladder cancers. There have been more recent advances across the board in immunotherapy, including the approval of atezolizumab by the FDA for bladder and urothelial cancers, marking the first new treatment for that tumor type in nearly three decades. Additionally, in select patients who have advanced urothelial cancer that has not responded to platinum-based chemotherapy, adding immunotherapy with pembrolizumab to the treatment regimen improved survival.

In the modern treatment era, prostate cancer was one of the first cancers to show a survival advantage with immunotherapy, specifically sipuleucel-T. Also known by the brand name Provenge, sipuleucel-T stimulates the immune system to seek out cancer cells and attack them. It represents the first therapeutic cancer vaccine in any cancer (treatment-focused as opposed to prevention-focused), and is FDA-approved for men with metastatic hormonal-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). Unfortunately, not all men respond to this treatment. At Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, we are looking to improve responses to sipuleucel-T with our Newlink-sponsored study of sipuleucel-T followed by indoximod/placebo. In addition, since it is difficult to tell which patients are the best fit for this treatment and which ones are responding to sipuleucel-T, we continue collaborations with other researchers to work on developing blood tests to find biomarkers to help men in the future.

Additionally, recent data from the 2016 European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) annual meeting demonstrated promising results for using pembrolizumab (also called Keytruda) in metastatic hormonal resistant prostate cancer. This immunotherapy that works by inhibiting the PD-1 pathway and has been recently approved in other tumor types, such as melanoma and lung cancer. An initial study of the drug across different tumor types was highlighted at the ESMO meeting with significant responses in a proportion of men with prostate cancer whose cancers grew despite essentially all known therapies. In addition, a study influenced by and subsequently performed by different groups of WCM collaborators demonstrated that five men with progressive metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer had major responses to this immune therapy, with PSA’s dropping by more than 99% and tumors greatly shrinking on scans. While all types of immunotherapy can lead to serious side effects, the treatment was generally very well-tolerated with minor side effects.

We are continuing the work to further define the subsets of men with advanced prostate cancer who can benefit from immunotherapy and we have a newly opened study of pembrolizumab for men with mCRPC. In this study, three groups of men will receive open-label (i.e. no placebo) pembrolizumab to test efficacy as measured by tumor shrinkage. We will also assess PSA changes and duration of tumor response, as well as biomarkers to help us determine in the future which men will receive the greatest benefit from this treatment.

Another promising immunotherapy-based prostate cancer treatment uses the monoclonal antibody (mAb) J591. J591 can recognize a protein antigen known as PSMA (also known as anti-prostate-specific membrane antigen) that is expressed on virtually all prostate cancer cells, and more heavily expressed in men with treatment-resistant metastatic forms of the disease. At the recent ESMO conference, we presented two clinical trials of J591 immunotherapy that are currently in progress here at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. One is for men with advanced prostate cancer and high (unfavorable) circulating tumor cell (CTC) count and the other delivers two doses of J591 prior to prostatectomy for men with intermediate and high risk prostate cancer. These trials are based upon the prior track record of this antibody in men with prostate cancer, including the fact that in initial pilot studies, men with advanced prostate cancer and a high number of CTCs had a decrease in tumor cell counts after J591. In addition, a prior study of J591 in combination with low-dose interkeukin-2 (IL-2) indicated that men with biochemically recurrent prostate cancer (rising PSA) did not develop metastatic disease as would have been expected without this intervention, and those with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer lived significantly longer than expected.

We also continue to utilize antibodies to deliver chemotherapy or radioactive particles to tumor cells with the intent of sparing normal cells. Three of these types of immunotherapy studies are currently enrolling for men with advanced prostate cancer, with others in development.

  • IMMU-132: This compound consists of a drug attached to an antibody which recognizes Trop2, a target that is over-expressed on prostate cancer cells. The antibody carries SN38, the active ingredient in irinotecan, which has shown prior responses in solid tumors. The drug has shown promising activity in breast and bladder cancer and is now being studied in prostate cancer.
  • Rovalpituzumab Tesirine “Rova-T” in Delta-Like Protein 3 (DLL3)-Expressing Advanced Solid Tumors: Our research has demonstrated that neuroendocrine prostate cancer (NEPC), one of the most aggressive and treatment-resistant prostate cancer subtypes, highly expresses DLL3. Rova-T uses an antibody to hone in on cells with DLL3 and take along a potent toxin to target those specific cells.
  • 177Lu-J591 + ketoconazole: In this clinical trial, J591 is radiolabeled with 177Lutetium, (177Lu) in order to deliver the drug directly to the prostate cancer cells. It is given in combination with an oral hormonal therapy drug which both attacks prostate cancer and at the same time, increases expression of PSMA, which is recognized by J591, leading to more targeting of the otherwise invisible tumor cells.