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Archive for ‘January, 2012’

The abstracts for the forthcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology 2012 Genitourinary Cancers Symposium (ASCO GU) have been released and offer insight into some of the new data that will be presented at the meeting.

radium-223 Alpharadin Prostate CancerThe results of the phase III ALSYMPCA trial for radium-223 (Alpharadin) in prostate cancer were presented at ECCO/ESMO last September by Dr Chris Parker.

As expected, there is no change to data presented in Stockholm that showed radium-223 (Alpharadin) improves both Overall Survival and Skeletal Related Events:

radium-223 Overall Survival Benefit
median 14.0 vs 11.2 months; P value = 0.00185; HR = 0.695

radium-223 time to first SRE 
median 13.6 vs 8.4 months; P value = 0.00046; HR = 0.610

However, the meeting abstract published today shows that radium-223 in bone-metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer patients (CRPC), not only significantly prolonged time to first skeletal related event (SRE), but significantly prolonged 3 out of the 4 SRE components:

  • time to spinal cord compression,
  • time to pathological bone fracture
  • time to external beam radiation

No significant improvement in the SRE component of time to surgical intervention was seen with radium-223.

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A scientific meeting that I would have liked to have attended and one where I think attendees will obtain a lot of insight into the future of prostate cancer research is the forthcoming American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Advances in Prostate Cancer Research meeting.

AACR Advances in Prostate Cancer Research Meeting 2012Chaired by Charles Sawyers (MSKCC) and Arul Chinnayan (Michigan) it has an impressive line-up of speakers and sessions.  The meeting takes place next week (Feb 6-9) in Orlando.

There are two presentations on cabozantib (XL184) that may offer new insights into the mechanism of action of the drug and its potential:

Cabozantinib (XL-184) and prostate cancer: Preclinical and clinical profile of a novel agent

Maha Hussain, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI

Cabozantinib (XL184) inhibits androgen-sensitive and castration-resistant prostate cancer in the bone and increases bone formation in non-tumored bones
Eva Corey, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

A few of the presentations at the meeting that caught my attention include:

  • Role of inflammation (William Nelson)
  • Influence of tumor microenvironment on progression and resistance (Christopher Logothetis),
  • Novel therapeutic targets in prostate cancer (Arul Chinnaiyan)
  • Overcoming castration-resistant prostate cancer 
(Charles Sawyers)

If you have in an interest in prostate cancer research, February 6-9 in Orlando is the place to be.

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Head and neck cancer is not something we hear much about when it comes to new therapies, yet it is the sixth most common non-skin cancer in the world.

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) has an incidence of 600,000 cases a year, with 50,000 of those occurring in the United States.

Outcomes remain disappointing for patients, with disease free survival (DFS) rates of only 30-40% for patients with locally advanced HNSCC.  Five-year survival rates of around 50% have improved little for many years.

Zalutumumab failed to show OS benefit

The challenge of drug development in this area was highlighted by the failure of the phase III trial for zalutumumab (Genmab).  Zalutumumab was a monoclonal antibody against the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR).

Despite promising phase II data, the phase III trial did not show an improvement in overall survival against best supportive care (BSC) in patients with recurrent or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck who had failed standard platinum-based chemotherapy.  Genmab subsequently dropped zalutumumab from its pipeline in June 2011.

These results are interesting because they raise the question of why this agent failed when Erbitux (cetuximab), an EGFR monoclonal from Lilly/BMS succeeded?  Cetuximab is approved in the first-line setting in combination with radiation and in the relapsed setting with 5FU and as a single therapy in refractory patients.  Clearly not all EGFR therapies are equal.

Oncolytics Biotech Phase III trial ongoing

Another company trying to crack head & neck cancer is Canadian based Oncolytics Biotech, who have started a phase III trial with REOLYSIN® in combination with paclitaxel and carboplatin for patients with platinum-failed head and neck cancers.  A poster on their phase II data was presented at the AACR-EORTC molecular targets meeting in San Francisco last year (Abstract C22).

Reolysin is a proprietary formulation of the human reovirus (respiratory enteric orphan virus).  According to the company website, “in tumour cells with an activated Ras pathway, reovirus is able to freely replicate and eventually kill the host tumour cells.” It’s beyond the scope of this post to go into the science of oncolytic viruses.

The company recently announced CDN $18.5M of additional financing. According to the clinicaltrials.gov site, the primary completion date for the 280 patient, 53 site trial (NCT01166542) is estimated to be June this year.  The primary endpoint is again overall survival (OS) and it will be interesting to see whether they can succeed.

Which brings me to some interesting science in HNSCC that caught my attention earlier this week.

Low-level expression of miR-375 correlates with poor outcome & metastasis

Research published online first on January 9, 2012 in the American Journal of Pathology by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York showed that low-level expression of micro RNA-375 (miR-375) correlated with poor outcome in tumors of HNSCC patients.

Sally Church, Ph.D on Pharma Strategy Blog recently wrote about how microRNA (miRNA) can be used as a potential biomarker in breast cancer, allowing for earlier detection.

She noted, “miRNA looks to be a promising fledgling area for biomarker research in the early detection of cancer.”

Thomas Harris and colleagues showed that HNSCC patients with low miR-375 tumor-to-normal (T:N) expression ratio had a worse prognosis.

miRNA expression status was assessed as a ratio of miR-375 expression in the tumor relative to adjacent normal tissue collected from the same patient to provide a normalized ratio across the study population.

The Kaplan Meier curves in their paper show the significant correlation.  The data showed that:

Patients with lower miR-375 T:N expression were more likely to die of disease (HR: 12.8, 95% CI: 3.4 to 48.6) than those with higher miR-375 T:N.

The authors suggest that the correlation between low miR-375 tumor versus normal tissue expression and outcome may be due to the effects of miR-375 on tumor cell invasion.

The identification of a potential biomarker associated with head and neck cancer prognosis is promising.  The paper concluded that:

The identification of patients with a poor prognosis, especially in the case of early-stage disease, could lead to additional therapeutic interventions, such as suppressing tumor cell invasiveness, to achieve better outcomes.

Geoffrey Childs, Ph.DGeoffrey Childs, Ph.D, the co-senior of the author of the paper noted in a news release:

we hope that miR-375 will become part of a laboratory test to determine which patients have potentially lethal tumors and therefore should be treated aggressively following initial diagnosis.

There is an unmet medical need for novel therapeutics in HSNCC. Hopefully, new drug development targets will follow from the identification of biomarkers and a greater understanding of the molecular biology.

ResearchBlogging.orgHarris, T., Jimenez, L., Kawachi, N., Fan, J., Chen, J., Belbin, T., Ramnauth, A., Loudig, O., Keller, C., Smith, R., Prystowsky, M., Schlecht, N., Segall, J., & Childs, G. (2012). Low-Level Expression of miR-375 Correlates with Poor Outcome and Metastasis While Altering the Invasive Properties of Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinomas The American Journal of Pathology DOI: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2011.12.004

San-Francisco-Golden-Gate-Bridge-view-from-Coit-Tower-copyright-Pieter-DroppertAfter the recent JP Morgan Healthcare conference, San Francisco remains the destination of choice for forthcoming medical meetings.

Yesterday, saw the start of the 2012 ASCO Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium (ASCO GI) at Moscone West from Jan 19-21.

In a few weeks time, the 2012 ASCO Genitourinary Cancers Symposium (ASCO GU) will be held at the San Franciso Marriott Marquis from Feb 2-4.

If you are based in San Francisco, you are at the heart of the action. It’s less optimal if you are East Coast based, unless you need the frequent flyer miles and have a good travel budget!

According to the ASCO GU preliminary program there are eight oral abstracts on prostate cancer that will be presented at the meeting on Thursday, February 2. Here’s my preview of a few that caught my attention:

ASCO GU Abstract #1:

MDV3100 Phase 3 AFFIRM trial results

The first presentation of the MDV3100 AFFIRM phase 3 trial results are a late-breaking abstract and my prediction for the highlight of the prostate cancer session at ASCO GU.

So far, all that is known from the November 3, 2011 press release from Medivation/Astellas is that MDV3100 produced a 4.8 month advantage in median overall survival compared to placebo in men with advanced prostate cancer.

This met the primary endpoint of the phase 3 AFFIRM trial, and the study was stopped early as a result.  As the press release notes, MDV3100 provided a 37% reduction in risk of death compared to placebo (hazard ratio = 0.631).

Howard Scher (MSKCC) will present the AFFIRM trial results at ASCO GU, and a closer look at the MDV3100 data is eagerly awaited.

ASCO GU Abstract #6:

Effect of denosumab on prolonging bone-metastasis-free survival (BMFS) in men with nonmetastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) presenting with aggressive PSA kinetics.

Amgen are seeking a new indication for denosumab (Xgeva) in prostate cancer on the grounds that it prolongs bone metastasis-free survival in men with non-metastatic CRPC.  The supplemental Biologics Application (sBLA) for denosumab will be discussed at the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) meeting on February 8, 2012.

The results from the phase 3, 147 trial were published in The Lancet last November and showed that use of denosumab delayed time to first bone metastasis by 3.7 months and improved bone-metastasis free survival.

Sally Church on Pharma Strategy Blog wrote about the denosumab 147 data presented at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA 2011) last year.

However, the challenge that Amgen faces is that they have yet to show that use of denosumab in men with prostate cancer results in an improvement in overall survival.  While it may delay the spread of prostate cancer to the bone, the gold standard for all the prostate cancer drugs approved to date has been overall survival.

The 147 trial showed that overall survival was similar between those taking placebo and those receiving denosumab (HR 1.01; 95 percent CI: 0.85, 1.20; p=0.91). Hypernatremia and osteonecrosis of the jaw were also reported with a higher frequency in the denosumab group

It is possible that there may be updated data at ASCO GU, but most likely it will be a review of The Lancet data with some subset analysis.

The FDA Center for Drug Evaluation & Research (CDER) plans to provide a free of charge, live webcast of the February 8, 2012 meeting of the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee, so I am looking forward to what the committee makes of Amgen’s filing.

ASCO GU Abstract #7:

Vitamin E & the Risk of Prostate Cancer – updated results of the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT)

Eric Klein will be presenting updated results from the SELECT trial that were previously reported in the October 12, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The data showed a 17% increase in prostate cancer risk with Vitamin E supplements. Although the program abstract advertises updated data, I’m not expecting the data to differ dramatically from last year’s JAMA paper.

ASCO GU Abstract #8:

Overall survival benefit and safety profile of radium-223 chloride (Alpharadin), a first-in-class alpha-pharmaceutical: Results from a phase III randomized trial (ALSYMPCA) in patients with castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) with bone metastases.

The ALSYMPCA trial data is being presented for the benefit of attendees who did not hear Oliver Sartor’s presentation on radium-223 (Alpharadin) at the NY Chemotherapy Foundation or hear Chris Parker present the trial data at ECCO/ESMO in Stockholm. This makes strong commercial sense, especially as it’s a product that physicians in the United States may know little about.

I blogged extensively about the ALSYMPCA trial results presented last year, and had the privilege to do an interview with Chris Parker from the Royal Marsden Hospital at the 2011 European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress (ECCO/ESMO/ESTRO) in Stockholm.

I am not expecting new data to be presented at ASCO GU on radium-223, but it will be interesting to see how the audience views a bone targeted radio-pharmaceutical that unlike denosumab, does provide an overall survival benefit.

The ALSYMPCA trial showed a significant delay in time to first skeletal-related event (SRE) of 13.6 months vs 8.4 months:

radium-223-Alpharadin-time-to-first-skeletal-related-event-ALSYMPCA-trialAND a median overall survival of 14 months compared to 11.2 months for placebo group:

radium-223-Alpharadin-overall-survival-benefit-ALSYMPCA-trialAlpharadin is on the fast track to FDA approval this year.

My conclusion:  If you plan to be at ASCO GU 2012, the prostate cancer data to watch is the first presentation of the MDV3100 AFFIRM trial results.

 

One of the challenges of the next decade in cancer research will be targeting cancer metabolism; imaging is likely to play a key role in drug development.

NMR-image-of-brain-gliomaThe cover of the January 11 online issue of Science Translational Medicine (STM) shows a brain tumor (glioma) in red, detected using non-invasive nuclear magnetic resonance imaging that highlights cancer metabolism.

In a paper published in STM, Andronesi and colleagues from Harvard & other Cambridge, MA institutions (including Agios Pharmaceuticals – more on them later), showed that excess production of the metabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG) could be used as a biomarker for a subset of glioma.

The subset this metabolic biomarker identified, were those patients with mutations of the isocitrate dehyrogenase gene (IDH1), present in 86% of the grade II & III gliomas and secondary glioblastomas.

Agios Pharmaceuticals founded by eminent cancer researchers, Lewis Cantley, Tak Mak and Craig Thompson is targeting the IDH1 and IDH2 metabolic pathways.

They have shown that mutations of the metabolic gene IDH1 are consistent with that of a cancer-causing oncogene.  Interestingly, Agios notes on their website that IDH1 and IDH2 mutations have also been seen in acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

What makes 2HG a functional biomarker for glioma is its correlation with survival.  2HG accumulates in the brains of patients with IDH1 mutations. These patients have a greater survival than those with wild-type IDH1 gliomas.

Developing a drug that targets cancer metabolism in the brain is not easy. NMR imaging of the 2HG in the brain will help researchers non-invasively follow the effects of inhibitors of mutated IDH1. This is particularly important given that, according to Andronesi et al,  “no report exists about increased D-2HG in the blood, cerebrospinal fluid, or urine of glioma patients with IDH1 mutations.”

The January 11 online issue of STM, also contains another paper on the detection of 2HG using NMR. Elkhaled and colleagues from UCSF report a technique of proton high-resolution magic angle spinning spectroscopy.  Their data confirms the potential of 2HG as a surrogate marker of patient survival.

Cancer metabolism as a drug development target is an area I expect we will see more of in the next ten years.  Key to success will be the ability to identify biomarkers with which to assess and monitor the success of drug candidates.

The identification of 2HG as a biomarker for IDH1 in glioma patients shows that cancer metabolism is an area of potential for drug development.

One cloud on the horizon for Agios Pharmaceuticals is, however, the filing of a lawsuit late last year by the Abramson Cancer Institute of the University of Pennsylvania. This alleges that Craig Thompson concealed the start-up of Agios while working for Penn, and in essence took the intellectual property of the University to the company. The merits of this claim have yet to be decided.

References

ResearchBlogging.orgAndronesi, O., Kim, G., Gerstner, E., Batchelor, T., Tzika, A., Fantin, V., Vander Heiden, M., & Sorensen, A. (2012). Detection of 2-Hydroxyglutarate in IDH-Mutated Glioma Patients by In Vivo Spectral-Editing and 2D Correlation Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Science Translational Medicine, 4 (116), 116-116 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002693

Elkhaled, A., Jalbert, L., Phillips, J., Yoshihara, H., Parvataneni, R., Srinivasan, R., Bourne, G., Berger, M., Chang, S., Cha, S., & Nelson, S. (2012). Magnetic Resonance of 2-Hydroxyglutarate in IDH1-Mutated Low-Grade Gliomas Science Translational Medicine, 4 (116), 116-116 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002796

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A survey of patients who had their prostate removed showed there was no significant difference in complication rates between open retropubic radical prostatectomy (ORRP) and robotic assisted laparoscopic surgery (RALRP).

This is an important finding because 85% of prostatectomies in the United States are undertaken using robotic-assisted techniques, yet there has been little published data to show that this technique improves functional outcomes.

At the European Association of Urology (EAU) annual congress last year in Vienna some of the challenges and opportunies with robotic surgery were raised:

  • lack of data on improved functional outcome
  • need for licensing of robotic surgeons
  • high learning curve – it takes 250 patients to become proficient

In reality, we see hospitals marketing their robotic surgery to patients in shopping malls and with advertisements on the side of buses.  You can read Gary Schwitzer’s thoughts on some of the recent marketing claims & “gizmo idolatry.”

This is why a survey comparing the results of open to robotic assisted prostate removal surgery is important evidence based medicine. Published online first in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Barry and colleagues randomly surveyed 800 men who filed Medicare claims between August and December 2008.  685 completed surveys were returned, and information on adverse events was obtained.

The data highlights the dramatic effect on quality of life that prostate cancer surgery can have, irrespective of the surgical technique. The men rated themselves:

31.1% – moderate or big problem with continence  (95% CI 27.5 to 34.8%)

88.0% – moderate or big problem with sexual function (95% CI 85.4% to 90.6%)

Breaking this down by technique (robotic surgery versus open prostatectomy):

Continence: 27.1% of men (Open) versus 33.3% (Robotic) – not significant (P=0.113)

Sexual Function: 89.0% of men (Open) versus 87.5% (Robotic) – not significant (P=0.57)

The authors conclude in their JCO paper:

Our results do not demonstrate a lower risk of problems with incontinence or sexual function after RALRP compared with ORRP.

In fact, after adjusting for potential confounders, there was at least a strong trend toward a higher risk of patient-reported moderate or big problems with incontinence following RALRP.

The authors in their discussion do raise the interesting question as to whether patients were led to believe that they would have fewer side effects with robotic surgery, which may have impacted the survey findings.  This merits further investigation.

There is clearly a need for patients to give informed consent, and be aware of the risks and complications of prostate cancer surgery, particularly with regards fundamental quality of life issues such as continence or sexual function.

The accompanying JCO editorial by Matthew Cooperberg and colleagues from UCSF is well worth reading and raises the question as to whether men with prostate cancer should expect better outcomes than those reported in the survey?

What the survey by Barry et al did not do is look at the volume of procedures and experience level of the surgeon, both of which are associated with outcomes.

Cooperberg noted that “surgeons performing fewer than 5 prostatectomies per year account for approximately half the national volume.

A chilling statistic, and if you factor in the learning curve of more than 200 procedures to be competent at robotic surgery, it is perhaps not surprising that some men experience higher complication rates than others.

Which brings me back to the importance of the PIVOT (Prostate Cancer Intervention versus Observation Trial) data presented in the plenary session at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA) in May last year.

Why has this practice changing data not been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet?

The fact that the updated PIVOT study results presented at AUA 2011 have not been published (to the best of my knowledge) is a disservice not only to the medical and scientific community, but to men with prostate cancer whose treatment should be guided by evidence-based medicine.

The long-term results of the PIVOT trial presented by Professor Wilt showed no benefit of radical prostatectomy over watchful waiting, except for high-risk patients.  Yet, the reality is that many men end up having surgery. This may be considered overtreatment and an exposure of more men than is necessary to the complications of prostatectomy, irrespective of whether this is robotic or open surgery.

The decision to undergo radical prostatectomy should be an informed one, not only as to the risks and benefits of the surgical technique, but also whether the surgery should be performed in the first place as compared to “watchful waiting.”

I hope the paper and editorial published in the JCO this month will generate some debate. Next month I will be at the European Urology Association annual congress in Paris.

References

ResearchBlogging.orgBarry, M., Gallagher, P., Skinner, J., & Fowler, F. (2012). Adverse Effects of Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Versus Open Retropubic Radical Prostatectomy Among a Nationwide Random Sample of Medicare-Age Men Journal of Clinical Oncology DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2011.36.8621

Cooperberg, M., Odisho, A., & Carroll, P. (2012). Outcomes for Radical Prostatectomy: Is It the Singer, the Song, or Both? Journal of Clinical Oncology DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2011.38.9593

Update August 12, 2012 – Paper published in European Urology shows lower incontinence and greater rate of erection recovery with robot-assisted radical prostatectomy

A paper published online (July 20, 2012) in the journal, European Urology by Franceso Porpiglia provides some evidence that robot-assisted radical prostatectomy offers functional benefits to patients. I have not read the full paper only the freely available abstract.

The clinical trial evaluated the functional outcomes of 120 men in a randomized clinical trial where half (n=60) received radical prostatectomy (RARP) that was robot-assisted and the other half (n=60) who had the operation laparoscopically without robot assistance (LRP).

Following the surgery performed by Dr Porpiglia, the functional outcomes between the two groups were compared. Those men operated on with robot assistance showed:

  • Lower incontinence. “Continence after 3 mo was 80% in the RARP group and 61.6% in the LRP group (p = 0.044), and after 1 yr, the continence rate was 95.0% and 83.3%, respectively (p = 0.042)”
  • Better erection recovery. “Among preoperative potent patients treated with nerve-sparing techniques, the rate of erection recovery was 80.0% and 54.2%, respectively (p = 0.020).”

The challenge of this study is that although it was randomized, it reflects the results of only one surgeon with a small number of patients.

Dr Matthew Cooperberg (@cooperberg_ucsf) was quoted by Reuters saying that this was likely the best study we were going to get showing the benefits of RARP over LRP. On twitter he said the real question was now between radical prostatectomy and external radiation therapy (XRT).

https://twitter.com/cooperberg_ucsf/status/233427660708126721

The Yonhap news agency announced today that the South Korean equivalent of the FDA had approved Il-Yang pharmaceuticals radotinib (brand name Supect) for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).  Radotinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, also known by its development code of IY5511.

I briefly mentioned radotinib in my CML update from the ASH 2011 annual meeting.

The Yonhap release quotes an official at the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) as saying that:

“It will be used on patients who have become resistant to existing drugs such as Gleevec, Tasigna and Sprycel.”

While its use in Korea appears to be in second or third line & non-responding patients, the Yonhap release states that “Il-Yang have started additional clinical trials in South Korea, India, Thailand and Indonesia,” and the intention in those countries appears to be directed to front line use.

No mention is made of China or Brazil, but the fact that Il-Yang are focusing on the emerging markets of Asia, does not rule out that this drug might finder wider use outside of the countries where clinical trials have taken place.  I could certainly see generic companies interested in potential licensing opportunities.

Details of the price of Supect (not a name I particularly like, I have to say – suggests “Suspect” but I am sure the name translates better in other languages) are unknown. Il-Yang are quoted in the Yonhap release as saying that it will be priced cheaper than existing CML drugs.

Could Supect be a competitor to Ariad’s ponatinib? I am sure there will be more information released as to which mutations it targets, but it’s a product that has largely flown under the radar.  I have not seen any presentations at recent EHA or ASH annual meetings.  Even if it is more closer to imatinib than ponatinib in terms of efficacy, its launch may have an impact on the future ponatinib pricing strategy.

Will Novartis and BMS compete on price in Korea and other Asian markets? It will be interesting to watch whether they see Supect as serious competition.  With the prospect of generic imatinib in a few years time, radotinib may have just made it to market in time.

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