2018 in Review: Advancements and Accomplishments

From delivering exceptional care in the clinic, to presenting at scientific conferences and publishing research in high-impact medical journals, our Genitourinary (GU) Oncology Program had an exceptionally busy 2018. We continue to work diligently to develop new and more effective therapies to treat advanced prostate, bladder and kidney cancers, while educating the community about cutting-edge advancements in the field.

As we look back on 2018, we wish to share a brief update of our research and accomplishments. Here’s what our team has been up to over the past year.

New Faces
Most recently, we were proud to welcome Dr. Cora Sternberg, a global thought-leader in the GU oncology space, to our team. Dr. Sternberg will facilitate the continued growth and development of clinical and translational research programs in GU malignancies, as well as serve as Clinical Director of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine (EIPM) to develop strategies to incorporate genomic sequencing and precision medicine within our Program and across Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian.


New Events
More than 200 prostate cancer patients and loved ones attended our inaugural New York City Prostate Cancer Summit, a multi-institutional collaboration between Weill Cornell Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. This educational and advocacy event featured presentations and panel discussions from local medical experts and national advocacy leaders, with topics including nutrition, screening, coping and anxiety, immunotherapy and much more. Our second annual Summit is slated for September 2019 during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Stay tuned for details.


New Research Developments

Prostate Cancer

• Based upon our prior work with fractionated dosing of our radiolabeled antibody 177Lu-J591, we performed the world’s first phase 1 dose-escalation trial of 177Lu-PSMA-617 without finding any dose-limiting toxicity (no major side effects despite higher and higher doses), presenting the initial results at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2018 Congress. The phase II portion of the trial is ongoing. We are also leading the first trial combining two different targeting agents (J591 and PSMA-617) designed to deliver more radiation to tumors and less to other organs.

•  Alpha particles are several thousand-fold more potent than beta-emitters such as 177 Lu. We are completing the phase 1 dose-escalation portion of the world’s first-ever clinical trial utilizing a powerful alpha particle (225Ac) directed almost exclusively at prostate cancer cells by linking it with our J591 antibody, which avoids salivary glands.

• As prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) targeting enters “prime time,” the United States Department of Defense (DOD) has recognized our significant contributions to this evolving field with a grant that will allow us to research optimal patient selection for PSMA-targeted radionuclide therapy and assess the treatment’s immune effects.

• Thanks to developing technology utilizing circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), we are able to draw information about a patient’s tumor via a simple blood test. In our findings published by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Clinical Cancer Research journal, we analyzed the relationship between chemotherapy treatment and expression of androgen receptor (AR) variants in CTCs of men with metastatic prostate cancer.

• We led a phase II clinical trial through the Prostate Cancer Clinical Trials Consortium (PCCTC) and discovered that an aggressive subset of disease called neuroendocrine prostate cancer (NEPC) is driven by a gene with an associated target known as aurora kinase. Further investigation into targeting of the gene may help us to refine therapy for this difficult-to-treat patient population. Our findings were published as a cover story in Clinical Cancer Research. 

• Working with collaborators and funded by the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), we have developed unique genomics sequencing methodology called PCF SELECT that allows us to identify actionable mutations in men with advanced prostate cancer.

Kidney Cancer

• The number of United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs for patients with advanced kidney cancer continues to grow. Dr. Ana Molina leads our team in offering clinical trials focused on novel targeted agents, combination treatments, and risk-directed therapies for various subtypes of kidney cancer.

• Working together with the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine, we are evaluating genetic signatures from patient tumor specimens and developing organoids that can be used to test novel pathways and tailor treatment to each individual patient.

• Laboratory studies of our in vivo kidney cancer models have resulted in discoveries regarding the metabolism of the disease. Understanding the role of the mitochondria (a cell’s power generator) in kidney cancer is leading us to novel therapeutic approaches to block tumors from growing and spreading.

Bladder Cancer

• Five immune therapies are now FDA-approved for people with advanced bladder cancer. We continue research to improve upon these agents by combining them with targeted therapeutics with the potential to replace chemotherapy. Collaboration with EIPM will help us to identify tumors most likely to benefit from these treatments.

• Dr. Bishoy Faltas and his lab team are focused on understanding the role of a specific family of proteins that cause mutations (genetic errors) that may be the underlying cause of bladder cancer. This research will enable us to develop new treatments to target the newly-identified genes that drive the disease.

• Based upon Dr. Faltas’ prior high-impact Nature Genetics publication that identified the genetic mechanisms by which bladder cancers become resistant to chemotherapy and new drug targets, we are launching an innovative new clinical trial utilizing a targeted drug that inhibits bladder cancer growth, the first time this type of drug is being tested in bladder cancer.

• We are conducting clinical trials of two antibody-drug conjugates (sacituzumab govitecan and enfortumab vedotin) designed to deliver potent chemotherapy-like toxins preferentially to cancer cells. This type of therapy is anticipated to become one of the standard approaches to bladder cancer treatment.

Precision Medicine

• Using samples of patient tumors (drawn via needle biopsy), we can create small 3-D tumor representations known as organoids that mimic the way that cancer cells grow within the body and respond to treatment. Our team has worked to develop this exciting new form of precision medicine, which is especially significant for rare cancers with a lack of preclinical models available for study.

We are moving closer to our ultimate goal of curing genitourinary cancers and look forward to continued progress in the years ahead.

 

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.