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.

 

Dr. Tagawa Presents Updated Results of ATL101 at AACR

At the annual American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, DC last week, Dr. Scott Tagawa presented updated combined analysis of 4 Phase I and Phase II studies involving 114 patients treated with ATL101. The analysis demonstrated that PSMA imaging might be used to predict the response to ATL101 radioimmunotherapy.ATL101 is a new targeted radiotherapy experimental drug for treating prostate cancer. ATL101 combines the humanized J591 monoclonal antibody targeting prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) plus the Lutetium-177 radioisotope, creating the first tumor-specific delivery system able to target radiation to radio-sensitive prostate cancer cells wherever they are in the body.

From the sponsor’s press release:

14 patients were evaluable for semi-quantitative analysis of planar gamma images acquired after injection of ATL101 (35 patients from phase I at dose of 10-75 mCi/m²; 47 patients from Phase II at dose of 65-70 mCi/m² and 39 patients from phase I with a fractionated schedule at dose of 40-90 mCi/m²). 22 patients were also evaluable after injection of Indium-111 labeled J591 and treatment by Yttrium-90 labeled J591 at dose of 5-20mCi/m². Patients were sorted into 3 groups: low PSMA expression group included one third of patients, with no uptake (18%) or with weakly positive images (16%); high PSMA expression group included one half of patients, with tumor image as intense (26%) or more intense (24%) than liver. The 16 % remaining patients had intermediate uptake.

Significant correlation was found between higher PSMA expression (high vs. low) and higher response rates (RR) to treatment defined as >30% decline in PSA (RR=32% vs. 12.5%, p=0.01). RR was itself significantly correlated to longer survival. An association between PSMA expression by imaging and reduction in circulating tumor cell counts was also found (p=0.07). Further studies will examine quantitative molecular imaging with anti-PSMA PET/CT as recently published in animal models (Morris et al, 2013 ASCO Genitourinary Cancers Symposium).

Click here to read the complete press release.

Weill Cornell Researchers: Encouraging Results from J591 Study

Dr. Tagawa
Dr. Tagawa

Weill Cornell researchers recently published findings from a Phase II study of the lutetium-177-labeled monoclonal antibody J591 (called Lu-J591).

J591 is a man-made monoclonal antibody that is able to recognize a protein antigen (PSMA) expressed on virtually all prostate cancer cells, and more so in men with treatment-resistant metastatic disease. When a tiny tag of radioactive material is attached to the J591 antibody, that specifically targets prostate cancer cells, and delivered systemically this is known as “radioimmunotherapy.” Dr. Scott Tagawa and colleagues at Weill Cornell have been conducting clinical trials of the precision radioimmunotherapeutic J591 to determine its ability to eradicate prostate cancer cells.

In the recently published study, 47 prostate cancer patients with PSA progression after hormonal therapies with or without chemotherapy were treated with Lu-J591. 10.6 percent experienced more than 50% PSA decline, and 36.2% experienced more than 30% decline. Among those treated at the maximum tolerated dose, 46.9% had more than 30% PSA decline. Furthermore, 75% of patients with radiographically measurable disease had some measure of disease control; 67% of those assessed for circulating tumor cells had more than 50% decline in tumor cell counts 4 to 6 weeks after treatment.

The researchers concluded that a single dose of Lu-J591 was well tolerated and they found a measurable response rate. The authors conclude that Lu-J591 is a promising new therapeutic strategy to explore.

Click here to read the published abstract. Click here to read an article about the study and the findings.