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Second-line treatment

Treatment standards and emerging options for advanced NSCLC previously treated with one line of prior therapy

Dr West

Is immunotherapy the wrong choice for some lung cancer patients?

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Amidst all of the glowing reports about immunotherapy for lung and many other cancers, it would be understandable for patients and physicians to be tempted to rush toward prioritizing immunotherapy as the first treatment strategy to pursue. In fact, a highly publicized trial called KEYNOTE-024 was just presented at the ESMO meeting in Copenhagen and demonstrated a significant improvement in progression-free and overall survival over standard chemotherapy doublet treatment as the first line approach for patients with high level expression of the PD-L1 protein on their tumor (about 30% of patients).  But there is also converging evidence that some patients are consistently less likely to benefit from immunotherapy — specifically, those patients with an EGFR mutation and perhaps others with another “driver mutation” such as an ALK or ROS1 rearrangement.  This is an important issue to know, because I and some other lung cancer specialist colleagues see patients with one of these highly targetable lesions sometimes being mistakenly recommended immunotherapy over the optimal targeted therapy for their cancer, or patients deflect a recommendation for an EGFR or ALK inhibitor in favor of immunotherapy based largely or completely on the hype around the latest new idea in cancer treatment.

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Dr West

Death by “Pseudo-progression”: Knowing When to Cut Your Losses with Immunotherapy

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Among the many novel concepts in managing immunotherapy is the potential for “pseudo-progression”. This unusual phenomenon is when a patient’s scans of the areas of cancer actually appear worse on early imaging, potentially even with new lesions, after starting immunotherapy, but a patient’s scans later show shrinkage of the cancer.  These patients typically feel well, often with improvement in their cancer-related symptoms (fatigue, appetite, etc.) that don’t seem to be concordant with their worse-appearing scans.

Why might this happen? Some biopsies of lesions that have grown or appeared as new in such patients help explain that the growth is from infiltration of immune cells around tumor cells, preceding the time when those tumor cells are attacked and eradicated by the immune system.  In cases where new nodules appear that then resolve with later scans, it is felt that this situation represents immune cells infiltrating a “micro-nodule” of cancer that wasn’t visible until it was surrounded by immune cells that then enlarged it enough to become newly detectable on scans.

Pseudoprogression West JAMA Oncol 2015

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Dr West

OAK trial with Tecentriq (atezolizumab) is positive: How a “me too” result may change the landscape in advanced NSCLC

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With positive trials of two immune checkpoint inhibitors, Opdivo (nivolumab) and Keytruda (pembrolizumab), in second line NSCLC and compared with Taxotere (docetaxel), it should come as a surprise to nobody that another checkpoint inhibitor, Tecentriq (atezolizumab) has also proven superior to Taxotere in the OAK trial of previously treated NSCLC patients, as reported in a press release today.  Perhaps the biggest surprise is that this result actually has the potential to shake up the field even with Tecentriq as a late third entrant into the race.

The trial in question is called OAK, which is a very straightforward head to head phase III trial of Tecentriq, a PD-L1 inhibitor, vs. standard Taxotere in 1225 patients who had received one or two lines of prior chemotherapy and were not restricted by level of PD-L1 expression.

OAK trial image

This trial is very similar to trials with the PD-1 inhibitor Opdivo in patients with previously treated squamous NSCLC (Checkmate 017) and another with Opdivo in previously treated non-squamous NSCLC (Checkmate 057), without restriction by PD-L1 status. Both of those trials demonstrated a significant improvement in overall survival compared with Taxotere, leading to the approval of Opdivo in previously treated patients with advanced NSCLC, regardless of PD-L1 status.  In addition, the Keynote-010 trial of the PD-L1 inhibitor Keytruda vs. Taxotere also demonstrated a very similar survival benefit but was restricted to patients with PD-L1 expression.  At this time, the approval of Keytruda is only specifically for patients who test positive for PD-L1 with a threshold level of >50% expression, based on an earlier trial with Keytruda that demonstrated clearly greatest benefit in the much smaller minority of patients with high level PD-L1 expression using a 50% cutoff (about 28% of patients).

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GRACE Video

Ceritinib and Other Second Generation ALK Inhibitors for Acquired Resistance in ALK-Positive NSCLC

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Dr. Ross Camidge, University of Colorado, describes the second generation ALK-inhibitors which provide good options for ALK-positive NSCLC patients who have developed acquired resistance to crizotinib.

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One of the exciting things about the ALK field is that in a relatively short space of time, we’ve gone from defining a molecular subtype of lung cancer that responds very nicely to a first generation drug, crizotinib, that we’ve actually not got more choices. More specific, more potent ALK inhibitors have been developed: ceritinib, alectinib, brigatinib to name a few. Ceritinib is already licensed — the other two drugs have got what’s called FDA breakthrough approval. That means the FDA is very keep to look at the results, and hopefully if they’re good, will license the drug fairly quickly.

What they’re showing is, one: because they tend to be slightly cleaner drugs, they have a different side effect profile from crizotinib. For example they tend to not have the swelling of the ankles and other areas of swelling which is associated with an off target effect of crizotinib called anti-MET activity. However they’re not completely free from side effects. Ceritinib for example has a lot of gastrointestinal side effects — a lot of nausea, a lot of vomiting and diarrhea, and nearly 60% of people need a dose reduction. The alectinib and brigatinib are looking relatively cleaner in terms of the side effects.

In terms of whether they work: after the crizotinib has stopped working, people have progressed in one of two ways. Either their cancer is growing in their brain because crizotinib doesn’t penetrate into the brain very well, or the cancer has evolved and changed its biology in the presence of the crizotinib.

The good news is these next generation drugs work on both of those mechanisms. Either more is getting into the brain or the drug is just more potent, and therefore we’re seeing responses in the brain, and also they work on some of the known resistance mechanisms to crizotinib. We’re seeing 50-70% of people responding in their body after initially progressing on crizotinib.

So very rapidly we now have a clearly defined next line of therapy for ALK-positive patients progressing on crizotinib.


GRACE Video

Platinum-Based Doublets As the Cornerstone of First Line Treatment

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GRACE Cancer Video Library - Lung

GCVL_LU-F02_Platinum_Doublets_First_Line_Treatment

 

Dr. Benjamin Levy, Mount Sinai Health Systems, discusses platinum-based chemotherapy as the standard of care for advanced NSCLC patients without targetable genetic mutations.

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I’m going to be talking about the role of platinum chemotherapy for patients with advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer. No doubt, there have been significant advances in the past ten years with the development of targeted drugs for those patients who have a particular genetic makeup of their tumor. Many of these drugs have shown to be quite effective for those patients that are susceptible to such treatments. I think what we know though is unfortunately many patients will not have the genetic alterations that make them eligible for targeted treatments, and we have to default to chemotherapy.

I think ‘default’ is a bit of a misnomer because platinum chemotherapy or platinum doublet chemotherapy remains a standard of care for patients with advanced stage lung cancer who don’t harbor particular genetic alterations in their lung cancer and that’s okay. I think what we know about chemotherapy, platinum chemotherapy specifically, is that this type of approach improves survival for patients and it also can have the potential to improve quality of life as well as control symptoms as they relate to the lung cancer. So all three of those measures can be achieved with platinum chemotherapy.

Now chemotherapy comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes — the chemotherapy that we tend to use sometimes is called histology-directed chemotherapy, so patients with a particular type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma may get one type of platinum chemotherapy, whereas patients with a particular type of lung cancer called squamous cell may get a different type of chemotherapy.

I just want to speak briefly about maintenance chemotherapy for adenocarcinoma patients. This is the most common type of lung cancer we see, and again for those patients that don’t harbor genetic alterations that make them eligible for targeted drugs, we can offer a very effective chemotherapy that’s also very tolerable and that can also be given as a maintenance strategy. What I mean by that is that patients generally get four cycles of chemotherapy and for those patients that at least achieve stable disease after their four cycles and are tolerating treatment, I think that we have good data now that we can drop the platinum and continue one of the drugs called pemetrexed and provide a survival advantage for those patients. There are certain maintenance strategies that are also being looked at in the squamous cell population and there are studies ongoing for that.

I think, in some, that the chemotherapies we have now work very well, they can extend life, they can improve quality of life and they’re well tolerated, and I also think specifically for the subset of patients that come in with adenocarcinoma or non-squamous, that there should be a consideration for patients who are tolerating chemotherapy to be offered a maintenance approach.


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