As the Genitourinary Cancers (GU) Symposium gets under way in San Francisco February 13-16 2019, at a pre-meeting Presscast, ASCO experts singled out three abstracts to be presented at the meeting as of special interest: two on prostate cancer and one on kidney cancer. As would be expected, these three abstracts are just the tip of the iceberg among many important studies to be discussed at the 3-day meeting.
Prostate Cancer – Racial Disparity in Survival?
A large retrospective study to be presented at the meeting suggests that African-American men with chemotherapy-naïve metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) have improved survival on the newer androgen-directed therapies abiraterone or enzalutamide compared with Caucasians (Abstract 212). This is the first study to suggest a survival benefit for both drugs in African-American men, and further study is needed to validate this finding.
“We’ve historically seen that prostate cancer is more common, more aggressive, and more lethal in African Americans compared with men of other racial groups. Balancing against other health-related risks, we found that treatment with newer hormonal medicines led to a significantly greater survival for African-American men in this analysis, compared with white men,” said lead study author Megan Ann McNamara, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC.
“These findings provide important evidence that African-American men with metastatic prostate cancer, who have long had among the highest incidence and poorest outcomes of this disease, may now have better survival when treated with newer prostate cancer medications as compared with other men,” said ASCO Expert Robert Dreicer, MD, moderator of the Presscast.
The study was based on the Veterans Health Administration database from April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2018. Researchers identified 787 African American men and 2123 Caucasians aged 18 or older with prostate cancer and disease progression after surgical or medical castration; all men received either abiraterone or enzalutamide, but no chemotherapy. Patients were followed until death or disenrollment in their VA health plan. Median follow-up was 570 days for African-American men and 561 days for Caucasians.
African-American men were more likely than Caucasians to have the following co-morbidities: hypertension (77.1% versus 67.1%, respectively, P<.0001); type II diabetes (38.1% versus 29.3%, respectively, P<.0001); and liver damage or abnormality (8.8% versus 5.2%, respectively, P=.0003).
In an analysis adjusted for demographic and clinical characteristics, median overall survival was 30 months for African-American men compared with 26 months for Caucasians.
“This study was conducted in men with access to care through a single-payer system. The evidence suggests that African-American men have improved survival on standard of care treatments. Prospective trials are needed to validate these findings,” Dr. McNamara said.
Prostate Cancer – Radioligand Therapy
A novel approach using a tumor-specific radioligand therapy that binds to prostate specific membrane antigen (LuPSMA) had a strong showing in an expanded Phase II study of men with metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) who progressed on standard therapies (Abstract 228). The study showed high rates of PSA response with low toxicity, and high response rates were also seen in men who subsequently progressed on LuPSMA and were treated with further LuPSMA, the authors said.
Moreover, men treated with LuPSMA lived a median of 13.3 months after treatment, surpassing expected survival of 9 months for this stage of disease.
The study, the first prospective study of LuPSMA, is based on an expanded cohort of 50 patients; results in the first 30 patients treated were reported previously in The Lancet Oncology in June of 2018. The present study confirms earlier findings using LuPSMA, and two randomized controlled trials will compare LuPSMA versus cabazitaxel and LuPSMA versus best standard of care, respectively.
“For men with localized prostate cancer, brachytherapy, or radioactive seeds implanted by needle directly into the tumor, as well as external beam radiotherapy, have been effective forms of treatment. However, for men in this trial with cancer cells spread throughout the body, LuPSMA provides a new approach to a form of the disease that has been difficult to treat,” said lead author Michael Hofman, MBBS, professor of nuclear medicine at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Australia.
“In this trial, we treated men who would have otherwise been directed to palliative care. It’s exciting to see that LuPSMA can potentially offer benefits for many men with these very aggressive cancers, with few side effects and significant improvements in quality of life. Importantly, we saw continued benefit with LuPSMA retreatment in some men whose cancer progressed,” Dr. Hofman said.
Patients enrolled in the Phase II study were diagnosed with PSMA-positive mCRPC by upfront PET scan and were treated with up to 4 cycles of LuPSMA every 6 weeks. The primary endpoints were PSA response and toxicity. In the 50 patients enrolled in the trial, median PSA doubling time was 2.6 months. The majority of patients received prior treatment (docetaxel, 84%; cabazitaxel (48%), and abiraterone or enzalutamide (90%).
A PSA decline of >50% was observed in 32 of 50 patients (64%), including 22 patients (44%) with a PSA decline >80%. Among 27 patients with soft tissue disease at baseline, 56% had a partial or complete response according to RECIST criteria. Fourteen patients who progressed on LuPSMA received a median of 2 more cycles of LuPSMA; PSA >50% decline was observed in 9 patients (64%).
Adverse events were similar to those reported earlier in 30 patients: transient grades 1-2 dry mouth (68%), nausea (48%),and fatigue (36%).
Grades 3 to 4 toxicities were thrombocytopenia and anemia (10% for each). Median PSA progression-free survival was 6.9 months and median overall survival was 13.3 months.
“Survival rates are low for patients with prostate cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body, and providing effective treatments for this type of cancer has been an ongoing challenge. For this group of patients in dire need of new options, using an entirely new approach provides hope that we can start to change their outcomes,” said ASCO Expert Robert Dreicer, MD, Presscast moderator.
Immunotherapy Combo in RCC
Immunotherapy is making inroads in the treatment of metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC), according to promising results of the phase III KEYNOTE-426 study. The global, open-label phase III study demonstrated the superiority of the combination of pembrolizumab plus axitinib versus standard of care sunitinib as first-line therapy for mRCC (Abstract 543).
Pembrolizumab plus axitinib showed significant improvements in overall survival (OS), progression-free survival (PFS), and objective response rate (ORR) at a median follow-up of 12.8 months (P<.0001 for all three comparisons with suninitib). Twelve-month OS was 89.9% for the combination versus 78.3% for sunitinib (P= .0001). Median PFS was 15.1 months versus 11.1 months, respectively, and ORR was 59.3% versus 35.7%, respectively. Duration of response was not yet reached for the combination therapy arm versus a median of 15 months for sunitinib.
“These results are exciting. By adding pembrolizumab to a VEGF-targeted TKI we are seeing powerful anticancer responses, including improved survival, and importantly, results are seen across broad subgroups of patients. These data suggest that pembrolizumab plus axitinib should be a new standard of care for this population, in my opinion,” said lead author Thomas Powles, MD, Professor of Urology Oncology, Barts Cancer Institute, London, U.K.
Following promising results of a phase Ib study, the phase III KEYNOTE-426 trial randomized 861 patients with clear-cell RCC and no previous systemic therapy for mRCC to either arm. Pembrolizumab was given 200 mg IV every 3 weeks for a maximum of 35 cycles plus oral axitinib 5 mg b.i.d. versus oral sunitinib 50 mg every day on a 4 week on/2 week off schedule. Patients were treated until disease progression, unacceptable toxicity, or investigator’s decision.
“There have been few significant advances in treating this advanced form of disease. These findings may help provide an important new option for patients with mRCC,” said ASCO Expert Robert Dreicer, MD, Presscast moderator.
By Adrian Barfield, President, Medallion Healthcare
The 2017 Genitourinary Cancers Symposium takes place in Orlando, FL, on February 16 – 18, and a press cast held in advance of the meeting featured 3 important abstracts, with these key findings:
Early Discontinuation of PD-1/PD-L1 Blockers May Not Compromise Efficacy
In a small study of 19 patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC), discontinuation of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 immune checkpoint inhibitors due to side effects did not always lead to poor outcomes. The findings may challenge the current practice of continuing these drugs until (and sometimes after) the patient’s disease progresses.
Among 19 patients who initially responded to nivolumab but discontinued because of immune-related side effects, 42% had a durable response lasting for 6 months or longer, according to Rana R. McKay, MD, of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
“In medicine, we are constantly balancing the benefits and risks of any given treatment. This is a small study, and our findings need to be validated in a larger group of patients, but it underscores that in some cases, immunotherapy can have lasting benefits even after treatment discontinuation,” she said.
Two thirds of patients had received nivolumab as a single agent and the remainder received it in combination with other systemic treatments. The median time on immunotherapy was 5.5 months. All 19 discontinued treatment because of immune-related side effects, such as joint pain, rash, eye problems, diarrhea, and inflammation of the pituitary gland, muscle, heart, liver, pancreas, kidney or lung. Steroids were administered to 84% of patients and additional immunosuppressive agents were required for 11%. More than half the group had ongoing toxicity at the time of the analysis.
In 3 (16%) patients, the tumor progressed immediately after stopping treatment, but 8 (42%) patients had a continued response after being off treatment for at least 6 months. The remaining 8 (42%) were off treatment for 4 to 6 months or had follow-up for less than 6 months. The durable responders spent a median of 11 months on treatment and 20 months off treatment, reported Dr. McKay.
“We demonstrated that responders to anti-PD1/PD-L1 agents can have persistent clinical benefit despite treatment discontinuation for immune-related adverse events,” said Dr. McKay.
The prospective OMINIVORE study (Phase 2 study of Optimized Management of NIVOlumab based on Response) will further explore the efficacy of immunotherapy treatment discontinuation in treatment responders.
Press cast moderator and ASCO Expert Sumanta Pal, MD, reiterated the study’s message: that while the “unintended consequences of a reinvigorated immune response,” ie, immune-related adverse events, can be “serious,” patients with these side effects “can still have tangible benefit from these drugs.”
Recent Antibiotic Use May Negate Immunotherapy Benefits
In a retrospective analysis, patients with metastatic RCC who were treated with antibiotics within 1 month of starting treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors had a significantly shorter progression-free survival, versus patients not taking antibiotics, according to French investigators.
The researchers attribute this to the ability of antibiotics to wipe out “good bacteria” in the gut, based on preclinical studies showing that certain microorganisms in the gut interact with the immune system in a way that facilitates the effect of immune checkpoint inhibitors.
The study is the first to analyze the impact of antibiotics on immune checkpoint inhibitors, and provides the first evidence of a relationship between the gut microbiome and patients’ response to immunotherapy.
The study included 80 patients with metastatic RCC enrolled in a trial of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 agents. Of these, 16 (20%) had been treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics (mostly beta-lactamases and fluoroquinolones) from baseline up to 1 month prior to the first injection.
Compared with patients not taking antibiotics, antibiotic users had significantly worse progression-free survival: 2.3 months vs 8.1 months, respectively (P< .001); their response rates to the checkpoint inhibitors were also lower.
This statistical association was maintained in a multivariate analysis that adjusted for age, gender, disease risk group, tumor burden and use of proton pump inhibitors. Antibiotic users’ risk for progression was increased more than four-fold vs non-users.
“Although it’s too early to conclude about overall survival, with median follow up of less than 6 months, there is already a negative trend in the antibody-positive group,” reported Lisa Derosa, MD, MD, a PhD candidate at the Gustave Roussy Cancer Institute, Paris-Sud University in Villejuif, France.
Dr. Derosa suggested that the findings may be applicable to other tumor types, since antibiotics are frequently used in cancer patients in general to prevent and treat treatment-related infections. At this time, she does not recommend withholding antibiotics from patients taking checkpoint inhibitors.
Dr. Pal agreed, stating, “While Dr. Derosa’s findings are very intriguing, they were retrospectively generated and therefore are hypothesis-generating. Having said that, the observations are consistent with preclinical observations. With further prospective validation, we may gain insight as to whether the bacterial composition of the gut affects clinical outcomes, and this could help guide us in our antibiotic usage. Meanwhile, we must consider that antibiotics are used under circumstances that are medically necessary.”
In Prostate Cancer, Liquid Biopsy Reveals Potential New Treatment Targets
Analysis of cancer DNA from blood samples is yielding some new leads for potential prostate cancer treatment targets. With a commercially available liquid biopsy — which examines cell-free circulating tumor DNA (ctNDA) in the bloodstream — researchers identified new genetic mutations in prostate cancers, some of which were associated with poor prognosis.
Cell-free DNA reveals a tumor’s genetic profile, for which targeted treatments can be designed. The genetic landscape, however, changes over time, rendering some drugs ineffective because resistance develops.
If the ctDNA can identify the evolving mutations, clinicians could discontinue futile treatments and switch therapies, explained Guru Sonpavde, MD, of the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
The study included blood samples from 514 patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). The test, Guardant360, examined changes in 73 cancer-related genes.
In 163 patients, researchers explored associations between DNA changes and clinical outcomes, and in 64 patients they documented genetic changes over time through serial testing.
“Almost all the patients (94%) had some change detected, and most changes were associated with worse poor outcomes,” reported Dr. Sonpavde.
Higher number of ctDNA alterations was associated with shorter time to treatment failure (P=0.026). Patients with prior treatment for mCRPC had significantly more alterations in the androgen receptor gene (AR) than untreated patients (56% vs 37%; P=0.028).
Genes most often mutated were TP53, AR, APC, and NF1. Increased copy numbers were most common with AR, MYC and BRAF; increased cancer gene copy number can lead to proliferation of proteins that drive tumor growth.
Serial testing revealed that changes in AR over time were common. Importantly, patients with these mutations also trended toward shorter remissions (P=0.053) and shorter survival time (P=0.09).
“This indicates that developing salvage therapy with agents targeting AR alterations holds promise,” commented Dr. Sonpavde.
The findings via ctDNA were consistent with changes observed through traditional tissue biopsy, suggesting that noninvasive liquid biopsy may be a viable alternative. While there are currently no approved drugs targeting the most common mutations observed, some are in clinical trials noted investigators.
Dr. Sonpavde acknowledged that a controlled, prospective clinical trial is needed to confirm that treatment based on the molecular information from ctDNA improves patient outcomes.
Dr. Pal remarked that the study offers “one of the largest clinically annotated datasets describing features of ctDNA in advanced prostate cancer, which is a simple and convenient way to assess DNA composition and can reveal new mutations that clinicians can use to personalize therapy… The development of new agents targeting the androgen receptor is a good future direction of research.”