A few weeks ago I had the chance to speak with Dr. Tony Mok, who is a professor in the Department of Clinical Oncology at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong and the Chairman of the Hong Kong Cancer Therapy Society.
He is also the principal investigator and lead author for the pivotal Iressa Pan ASian Study (IPASS), which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the fall of 2009. I started by telling him that I consider that study to be arguably the most influential over the last 5-10 years in the field of lung cancer, because it highlighted that molecular predictive factors trump clinical markers in determining who is likely to do best with a targeted therapy, specifically an EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor like Iressa (gefitinib) or Tarceva (erlotinib). Here’s the first part of our conversation about what we’ve learned about how best to use these EGFR inhibitors and the potential differences in practice between Asia and the US.
The third and last podcast from our discussions with Dr. Lecia Sequist, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, covers the question & answer session that followed her excellent webinar on acquired resistance to EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors, as well as the update I did with her on the latest information from their experience of re-biopsying lung tumors over the course of treatment.
Here are the audio and video versions of the podcast, as well as the transcript.
EGFR stands for epidermal growth factor receptor, which is a molecule on the surface of many cancer cells that can be activated to activate signals that promote cell growth and cell division. Though this target may play a role for many kinds of cancer, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is one type in which this target protein is seen in a majority of people’s cancers. In a minority (about 10% in North America and Europe, but closer to 20-30% in Asian populations) who typically have little or no history of smoking and have an adenocarcinoma subtype of NSCLC, there is a particular mutation that leads to activation of the receptor and the downstream cascade of cellular activity that appears to often do a large part of driving the cancer mechanism. Consequently, drugs that block the EGFR target, specifically oral drugs that inhibit the tyrosine kinase portion on the back end, intracellular (within the cell) portion of the receptor (EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors, or TKIs, with examples being Tarceva (erlotinib) and Iressa (gefitinib) can sometimes lead to dramatic and long lasting tumor shrinkage. In a larger proportion of patients with NSCLC, these agents can provide a more modest benefit, consistent with the concept that the EGFR pathway is a contributing pathway for the cancer but not the primary driving force.