Dr. Greg Riely from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center reviews the limited data that help clarify the probability of benefit from new immunotherapy agents among patients with advanced NSCLC and an identified driver mutation.
The improvement in median survival of 1.2 months with the monoclonal antibody to EGFR erbitux (cetuximab) in the FLEX trial that I've previously described was statistically significant, but there's plenty of room to debate whether it's really clinically significant (see prior post). What If we could add some way to refine our predictions of who will benefit from the addition of erbitux?
Those who have followed my writings over time will know that I haven’t been inclined to adopt a reflexive strategy of ordering molecular testing without good evidence that having this information will improve outcomes. Testing tumors for EGFR mutations is advocated by a vocal minority of lung cancer experts in Boston and New York City, but this hasn’t been advocated by the broader lung cancer community yet, or adopted as routine clinical practice.
An interesting trial presented at ASCO 2008 came out of Japan, asking the question of whether there is an advantage to continuing first line platinum-based doublet chemo for up to six cycles or whether it might be better to give just three cycles and then switch from chemo right to the EGFR inhibitor iressa in Japanese patients with advanced NSCLC (abstract here).
The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress, similar to ASCO but based in Europe, has been going on in Stockholm, where the results of a study called the First Line Iressa versus Carboplatin/Paclitaxel in Asia Study (taking some liberties to force it into the acronym "IPASS") was presented in the Presidential Symposium by my friend and Hong Kong-based colleague Tony Mok.
We’re recognizing more and more that lung cancer in never-smokers (LCINS) is a distinct disease, with different patterns of who gets it, how the cancer behaves, and it responds to treatments. But this recognition is still a work in progress, coming from a background in which the party line has been that NSCLC is treated the same regardless of the histologic type (squamous, adenocarcinoma, large cell, or other), smoking history, or other factors.
One of my earliest posts when I started OncTalk was on the use of oral inhibitors of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), one of the growth signals that is often over-active in cancer cells, against advanced bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC), a unique subtype of lung cancer that tends to grow within the lungs, sometimes slowly, and not progress elsewhere.
Please Note: New Treatments Have Emerged Since this Original Post
Within the lung cancer community, the biggest story from the ASCO meeting was the long-awaited plenary session presentation (abstract here) of the FLEX trial of chemo with or without the EGFR monoclonal antibody Erbitux (cetuximab) that we knew was statistically significantly positive for an overall survival benefit as far back as September of last year (see
As I've described in a prior post, there is some evidence that patients who develop a rash on tarceva (erlotinib) have an improved survival compared to patients who experience no skin toxicity on tarceva. The key question is whether this is an issue of under-dosing some patients, or if it's just a correlate of overall immune function or constitution in a person, in which case increasing the dose won't improve the outcome.