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XALKORI

Dr West

New FDA Approval for Zykadia (ceritinib) for ALK-Positive NSCLC: Why I Think It’s a Poor Choice for Initial Treatment

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The FDA just approved a new therapy for the approximately 4% of patients with NSCLC who have the molecular marker known as an ALK rearrangement. The agent Zykadia (ceritinib), a “second generation” ALK inhibitor that is more effective than Xalkori (crizotinib) in lab models of ALK-positive NSCLC, and the new approval was for Zykadia as first line treatment for ALK-positive lung cancer, a setting where we have historically favored Xalkori since it was approved in 2011. . Despite the FDA approval for ceritinib, I don’t believe it should be favored as a first line therapy for ALK-positive patients. Why would I not favor it?

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Dr West

Should Alecensa (Alectinib) be the new first line ALK inhibitor for ALK-positive NSCLC?

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Probably the most immediate potentially practice-changing presentation from ASCO was the Japanese J-ALEX study in the subset of about 4-5% of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who have the molecular driver known as an anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) rearrangement, which we now routinely test for from the tumor tissue of patients with a non-squamous metastatic NSCLC.   The current historical standard of care as first line treatment is Xalkori (crizotinib), which is an ALK inhibitor that happened to be readily available when the ALK rearrangement was first being studied in NSCLC about 5-7 years ago. Though it was granted an accelerated FDA approval back in 2011 based on early very promising activity and has since been confirmed to be superior to chemotherapy as first line treatment in ALK-positive patients, it is a less active ALK inhibitor than many other “second-generation” ALK inhibitors such as Zykadia (ceritinib) and Alecensa (alectinib), both now FDA-approved for patients who have developed progression after Xalkori or who are not able to tolerate it, as well as other agents still in development, including brigatinib (likely to become approved soon), and a few others further behind in development but also very active against ALK-positive NSCLC.

A question that logically follows is whether it is better to give one of these more active second generation ALK inhibitors as first line therapy, where they are likely to be more active for longer than if given for “acquired resistance” after Xalkori, or whether it’s better to start with Xalkori and have other powerful ALK inhibitors left for later.  Should we use our best drug up front or only the most effective drug required to do the job for now, saving something in the tank as we think more about advanced lung cancer as a distance race than a sprint? How much do we prioritize control now vs. options later?

There are several trials that have been initiated that all test a second generation ALK inhibitor vs. Xalkori.  Two of the first to be completed compare Alecensa to Xalkori, a large, global trial known as ALEX, and a smaller trial done in Japan only, known as J-ALEX, which reported early and remarkably interesting results at ASCO 2016.

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GRACE Video

ALK Inhibitors for Acquired Resistance: Zykadia and Alectinib

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GCVL_LU-FC02_ALK_Inhibitors_Acquired_Resistance_Zykadia_Alectinib

 

Dr. Nathan Pennell, Cleveland Clinic, discusses acquired resistance to Xalkori in ALK-positive patients, and second generation inhibitors designed to overcome that resistance, such as Zykadia and alectinib.

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I’d like to talk now about next-generation anaplastic lymphoma kinase, or ALK, inhibitors. So, we know for patients with ALK-positive non-small cell lung cancer, that targeted treatment with ALK inhibitors like Xalkori, or crizotinib, are now the standard of care for patients with advanced disease, based on head to head trials showing that they work better than chemotherapy in inducing major tumor responses and delaying the progression of the disease, and potentially even improving survival. While responses can sometimes last a long time with Xalkori, unfortunately a majority of patients will eventually go on to develop what is known as acquired resistance where the cancer begins to grow despite continued treatment with the drug that worked so well initially. Something has changed in the cancer that’s caused the drug to no longer work to inhibit it, and when we biopsy these cancers, we find that there are a lot of different changes.

So unlike epidermal growth factor receptor mutation-positive lung cancer, there is no one dominant mutation that’s leading to resistance in ALK- positive lung cancer. There are lots of different mechanisms, but fortunately there are a wide array of new ALK inhibitors out there which have shown to be effective in this setting.

The first one that was farthest along and, in fact, is already approved for patients in this setting, is called Zykadia, or ceritinib. This was approved last year based on a large trial in patients who had progressed on the Xalkori, and about 50-70% of patients will have a major response to the Zykadia, with a duration of disease control that’s, on average, probably in the eight to ten month range. This drug is a little bit tougher than the Xalkori, so many patients have some nausea or vomiting, diarrhea or upset stomach, but these are things that oncologists are used to dealing with and with dose reductions and management of side effects, patients can tolerate this and it can work quite well.

There are also a number of other ALK inhibitors that are still in clinical trials that are likely to be approved soon. Probably the one that’s farthest along is known as alectinib. So we’ve just recently seen trials, again, showing that between 50-70% of patients with acquired resistance to the Xalkori will respond to alectinib, and the vast majority will have disease control for a fairly good period of time — again, the average is somewhere in the eight to ten month range, but many patients longer than that, and at least in published results, alectinib may be easier to tolerate than the Zykadia.

So this is just the tip of the iceberg. At last count, I think there were six or seven other next-generation ALK inhibitors in development — I don’t have time to list all of them, and none of them have been compared to one another to know which one is best, but all of them, at least preliminarily, appear to be effective in the setting of acquired resistance to crizotinib.

What I would recommend in 2015 is, if patients develop an acquired resistance to the Xalkori, that they preferentially enroll on a clinical trial of one of the new next-generation ALK inhibitors because I think this is the only way we’ll ever learn which of them is best and which one works the longest. But, if you don’t have a clinical trial available to you, or you’re not eligible for a clinical trial, your doctor can prescribe Zykadia right now and we know that’s an effective treatment.

The other thing that’s nice about these drugs is that they all seem to have some activity in brain metastases. We know that ALK-positive patients develop brain metastases at an extremely high rate, and this can be a real problem, sometimes even while the rest of the cancer remains under control. Both alectinib and Zykadia have been shown to have efficacy in brain metastases, in addition to the rest of the body — so, good news for ALK-positive lung cancer patients.


GRACE Video

Combinations and Other Options for Acquired Resistance in EGFR Mutation-Positive NSCLC

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GCVL_LU-F14_Combinations_Other_Options_EGFR_Acquired_Resistance

 

Dr. Nathan Pennell, Cleveland Clinic, describes other options for treatment of acquired resistance, including chemotherapy, ablation with SBRT and a combination of Gilotrif and Erbitux.

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On other videos in this series, we talked about next generation inhibitors for molecularly defined subgroups of patients who’ve developed acquired resistance. Now I want to talk about other options — if you don’t have a clinical trial available, or if you’ve already tried a next generation inhibitor and it stopped working.

We know that for patients with EGFR mutation-positive lung cancer, or ALK-positive lung cancer, the targeted therapies with drugs like Tarceva or Xalkori are more effective than chemotherapy and are really the standard of care for these patients. But unfortunately, most patients go on to develop what’s known as acquired resistance, where the cancer eventually begins to grow despite initially being controlled by the targeted therapy. While there are drugs being developed that are better inhibitors in that setting, they’re not always available outside of a clinical trial, or perhaps not ideally suited for a particular patient’s situation. So, what do you do in that setting?

There are a number of different options. The first thing to keep in mind is, not every patient who is developing acquired resistance needs to change what they’re doing. Sometimes, if the cancer is beginning to grow, it can grow in a very slow, asymptomatic way. In other words, it’s not causing symptoms, every time you do a scan it’s a little bit bigger, but the patient feels fine, is not having a lot of side effects from the drugs — you can continue to watch these. This can be anxiety-provoking, but I’ve watched patients for six months, nine months, sometimes longer before we really need to make a change. In the same vein, we know that about 20% of patients who develop acquired resistance don’t develop resistance everywhere in the body. Maybe only one or a couple of the tumors are growing, and if you biopsy those you can see that new mutations and mechanisms of resistance can arise in individual tumors while the rest of the cancer remains under control.

To borrow a phrase from my friend Dr. Ross Camidge at the University of Colorado: don’t overthink it — if one of the tumors is growing and all of the rest of them are the same, we can ablate the tumor that’s growing, essentially eliminate that, and patients can stay on the drug that they’re already on, sometimes, again, for six or nine months, sometimes longer, before resistance emerges elsewhere in the body.

The most commonly used mechanism for this is something called stereotactic body radiotherapy, or SBRT, which is a very effective way of using radiation to target individual tumors that tends to have very few side effects. Most patients, however, will eventually need to change the therapy that they’re on.

So, if you can’t stay on the drug any longer and you need to make a switch, one thing that many patients don’t even consider is going to chemotherapy. We know now that, since patients are being tested for EGFR mutations and ALK gene fusions upfront, many of them never receive chemotherapy and they start on a targeted therapy, but chemotherapy can be very effective for patients with EGFR mutant lung cancer or ALK-positive lung cancer, and in fact, tends to work better on average than in people who don’t have these mutations. I’ve had many patients who’ve had longer periods of disease control on chemotherapy than they had on the targeted therapies that everyone was so excited about. So, don’t despair if your doctor suggests chemotherapy because it may be a good option for you.

There are other clinical trials available, we’ve got the immune therapies that are out there — just the same treatments that are available for other types of lung cancer. There is one other thing I want to mention, for EGFR mutation-positive patients, there is a second generation inhibitor called afatinib, or Gilotrif. Gilotrif by itself is not effective for acquired resistance in EGFR, but when you add it to a second EGFR inhibitor called Erbitux, or cetuximab, in a large phase IB trial, we know that about a third of patients will have a major response to that combination, regardless of why their cancer developed acquired resistance. Sometimes this can last, on average, seven or eight months; I’ve used this and actually seen pretty good responses. It can be a little bit tough — both drugs cause diarrhea and skin rash, which can be worse when given together, but these tend to be manageable for most people.

So, in 2015, if your cancer develops acquired resistance to a targeted therapy and there isn’t a clinical trial available for one of the newer agents, don’t despair. There still are a number of things that can be tried, from remaining on the drug, to ablating the limited number of spots that are progressing, to switching to chemotherapy or participating in another clinical trial.


GRACE Video

Targeted Therapies in a Post-Operative/Adjuvant Setting

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GCVL_LU-D21_Targeted_Therapies_Post-Operative_Adjuvant_Setting

 

Dr. Nathan Pennell, Cleveland Clinic, reviews the available trial evidence for the use of targeted therapies in the post-operative/adjuvant setting.

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I’d like to talk to you now about adjuvant treatment with molecularly targeted therapies for non-small call lung cancer. We know that early stage patients, so patients with stage I, II, or III non-small cell lung cancer — many patients are cured with surgery, but unfortunately, many patients go on to recur with metastatic disease. The reason this happens is that some of the cancer cells have escaped from the tumor before surgery and spread elsewhere in the body. This is called microscopic metastatic disease, and for this reason, we offer patients at high risk of occurrence adjuvant therapy. Adjuvant just means that we give four cycles of chemotherapy after surgery, and we know that this provides a modest, but significant improvement in cure rates after surgery alone.

Well, what about for patients who have molecularly defined subgroups of cancer, like EGFR mutation-positive cancer, or ALK-positive cancer? We know that, in the advanced setting, targeted therapies like Tarceva or Gilotrif for EGFR-positive cancer, or crizotinib or Xalkori for ALK-positive lung cancer, are better than chemotherapy in terms of inducing tumor responses, delaying the progression of cancer, and potentially even improving overall survival.

Since they work in the advanced setting, wouldn’t it make sense that they might work better in the adjuvant setting as well? Well, it’s not quite that simple. For one thing, we don’t have any evidence for any type of molecular subgroup, other than EGFR mutation-positive patients, but even in that setting, we really don’t have good evidence that adjuvant therapy improves cure rates after surgery alone. We have a little bit of evidence, so we know that the doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute in New York have treated several hundred patients with adjuvant Tarceva after surgery and they’ve reported that the patients have probably a lower than expected recurrence rate compared to what we might expect for that risk of patients, and they’ve suggested that maybe even they’re improving cure rates with adjuvant Tarceva.

Unfortunately, you can’t draw conclusions from a retrospective series and not a prospective trial. There have been at least two prospective trials that have been done, including one phase II trial that treated patients with two years of adjuvant Tarceva after surgery and then a subgroup of patients from a phase III trial called the RADIANT trial — so these were not EGFR mutation-positive patients in the overall trial, but there were 160 mutation-positive patients on the trial who were treated with two years of Tarceva, or two years of a placebo. All of these put together have suggested that adjuvant Tarceva does potentially delay the recurrence of cancers, but once the adjuvant treatment stopped, many patients went on to recur at a later time. None of the trials have suggested that patients lived longer or were cured at a higher rate than patients who were treated with standard treatment, including adjuvant chemotherapy.

What we really need is a randomized prospective phase III trial. Luckily, there is one that’s open and enrolling called the ALCHEMIST trial. Patients with stage IB, II, or III non-small cell lung cancer are tested for EGFR mutations or ALK gene fusions, and if those are found, they’re randomly assigned to two years of Tarceva for EGFR, or Xalkori for ALK-positive lung cancer patients, or two years of a placebo. Hopefully, at the end of this trial we’ll know whether patients are cured at a higher rate when treated with these adjuvant target therapies, versus just delaying the recurrence of the cancer.

For now, in 2015, I would not routinely recommend adjuvant therapy with a targeted drug like Tarceva or Xalkori outside of a clinical trial, but would strongly encourage patients to enroll in the ALCHEMIST trial.


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