De-escalated Neoadjuvant Dual Anti-HER2 Blockade and Survival Outcomes in Early Breast Cancer

SUMMARY: Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the US and about 1 in 8 women (12%) will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Approximately 284,200 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2021 and about 44,130 individuals will die of the disease, largely due to metastatic recurrence.

The HER or erbB family of receptors consist of HER1, HER2, HER3 and HER4. Approximately 15-20% of invasive breast cancers overexpress HER2/neu oncogene, which is a negative predictor of outcomes without systemic therapy. Adjuvant and neoadjuvant chemotherapy given along with anti-HER2 targeted therapy reduces the risk of disease recurrence and death, among patients with HER2-positive, early stage, as well as advanced metastatic breast cancer.

Trastuzumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody targeting HER2. It binds to the extracellular subdomain IV of the receptor and disrupts ligand independent HER2 downstream cell signaling pathways. Pertuzumab is a recombinant, humanized, monoclonal antibody that binds to the HER2 subdomain II and blocks ligand dependent HER2 heterodimerization with other HER receptors. Thus Trastuzumab along with Pertuzumab provide a more comprehensive blockade of HER2 driven signaling pathways. Dual HER2 blockade with Trastuzumab and Pertuzumab, given along with chemotherapy (with or without endocrine therapy), as first line treatment, in HER2 positive metastatic breast cancer patients, was shown to significantly improve Progression Free Survival (PFS) as well as Overall Survival (OS). The superior benefit with dual HER2 blockade has been attributed to differing mechanisms of action and synergistic interaction between HER2 targeted therapies.

Pathological Complete Response (pCR) after neoadjuvant therapy has strong prognostic significance in HER2+ breast cancer and pCR rates in HER2+/HR− tumors exceed those in HER2+/HR+ tumors, and this in turn correlates with superior Event Free Survival. The FDA approved anti-HER2 dual blockade with Pertuzumab and Trastuzumab, given along with chemotherapy for the neoadjuvant treatment of patients with HER2-positive, locally advanced, inflammatory, or early stage breast cancer, based on the NeoSphere trial, and for metastatic disease based on positive survival results in the CLEOPATRA trial. The role of chemotherapy free anti-HER2 dual blockade however has remained unclear.

ADAPT (Adjuvant Dynamic marker-Adjusted Personalized Therapy) is one of the first new generation neoadjuvant trials addressing individualization of neoadjuvant therapy in early breast cancer and was initiated to establish early predictive surrogate markers such as Ki-67 for therapy response following a short course of induction treatment, in order to maximally individualize therapy and avoid unnecessary toxicity by ineffective treatment. West German Study Group (WSG)-ADAPT trials were designed separately for HER2+/HR− and HER2+/HR+ breast cancer sub groups as they are biologically distinct, with HER2+/HR− subgroup being more aggressive but also more chemosensitive, as evidenced by response to neoadjuvant therapy and subsequent survival rates.

The WSG-ADAPT HER2+/HR- trial is a multicenter, prospective Phase II/III trial which assessed whether patients with strong early response to dual HER2 blockade alone might achieve pathological Complete Response (pCR), comparable to that of patients receiving dual HER2 blockade and chemotherapy. In this study, 134 patients (N=134) with cT1-cT4c, cN0-3 HER2+/HR- early breast cancer were randomly assigned 5:2 to either receive Trastuzumab and Pertuzumab alone in arm A or with added Paclitaxel in arm B. In Arm A, patients (N = 92) received a loading dose of Trastuzumab 8 mg/kg IV and then 6 mg/kg three weekly along with Pertuzumab 840 mg loading dose and then 420 mg 3 weekly, for a total of 12 weeks. In Arm B (N=42), in addition to Trastuzumab and Pertuzumab as administered in Arm A, Paclitaxel 80 mg/m2 IV was given every week for 12 weeks. Eligible patients had tumors that were ER and PR negative (less than 1%) and HER2-positive (IHC 2+ and FISH positive or IHC 3+ positive). After neoadjuvant treatment, surgery or histological confirmation of non-pCR by core needle biopsy within 3 weeks was mandatory. Pathological Complete Response (pCR) at surgery was defined as no invasive tumor residuals in breast and lymph nodes.

The Primary endpoint was pCR and omission of further chemotherapy was allowed in patients with pCR, and Secondary endpoints included 5 year distant Disease Free Survival (DFS) and Overall Survival (OS). An important objective of this study was to identify an early-responder population with regard to pCR after Trastuzumab and Pertuzumab alone treatment, which is strongly associated with long-term prognosis particularly in HER2+/HR− breast cancer, and assess whether this population might be spared neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Early response was defined as proliferation decrease 30% or more of Ki-67 (compared to baseline) or low cellularity (less than 500 invasive tumor cells) in the 3-week biopsy. The trial was stopped early due to the observed pCR superiority in the dual HER2 blockade plus chemotherapy group. The authors previously reported that the pCR rate in the dual HER2 blockade plus chemotherapy group was 90.5%, compared with 36.3% in the dual HER2 blockade alone. The authors have now reported the first survival data.

After a median follow-up of 5 years, there were no significant differences in DFS, distant DFS and OS between the 2 study groups. The invasive DFS rate was 98% with dual HER2 blockade and chemotherapy and 87% with dual HER2 blockade alone (HR=0.32; P=0.144). Distant DFS was 98% and 92%, respectively (HR=0.34; P=0.313) and Overall Survival was 98% and 94% (HR=0.41; P=0.422). The achievement of a pathologic Complete Response following 12 weeks of treatment was strongly associated with improved invasive DFS at 5 years, irrespective of study group (98.5% versus 82%; HR=0.14; P=0.011). The researchers also examined the benefit of neoadjuvant chemotherapy-free dual HER2 blockade alone and noted that no pCR was observed in patients with low HER2 expression (IHC 1+ or 2+ and FISH positive) and/or basal-like subtype as detected by PAM50 assay. In the total study population, low HER2 expression and/or no early response was strongly associated with worse distant DFS (P=0.029) and invasive DFS (P=0.068).

The authors concluded that excellent pCR and Survival can be accomplished in patients treated by de-escalated 12-week neoadjuvant weekly Paclitaxel and dual HER2 blockade, irrespective of additional chemotherapy use. They added that early pCR after only 12 weeks of neoadjuvant Paclitaxel plus dual HER2 blockade was strongly associated with improved outcome, and may thus serve as a predictive clinical marker for further treatment de-escalation.

De-escalated neoadjuvant pertuzumab+trastuzumab with or without paclitaxel weekly in HR-/HER2+ early breast cancer: ADAPT-HR-/HER2+ biomarker and survival results. Harbeck N, Gluz O, Christgen M, et al. J Clin Oncol 39, 2021 (suppl 15; abstr 503)

KEYTRUDA® Versus ADCETRIS® in Relapsed or Refractory Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma

SUMMARY: The American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States for 2021, about 8,830 new cases of Hodgkin Lymphoma will be diagnosed and about 960 patients will die of the disease. Hodgkin lymphoma is most common in early adulthood and the average age of people when they are diagnosed is 39 years, although the risk of Hodgkin lymphoma rises again in late adulthood after age 55.

Hodgkin Lymphoma is classified into two main groupsClassical Hodgkin Lymphomas and Nodular Lymphocyte Predominant type, by the World Health Organization. The Classical Hodgkin Lymphomas include Nodular sclerosing, Mixed cellularity, Lymphocyte rich, Lymphocyte depleted subtypes and accounts for approximately 10% of all malignant lymphomas. Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin Lymphoma histology, accounts for approximately 80% of Hodgkin lymphoma cases in older children and adolescents in the United States. Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma is a malignancy of primarily B lymphocytes and is characterized by the presence of large mononucleated Hodgkin (H) and giant multinucleated Reed-Sternberg (RS) cells, collectively known as Hodgkin and Reed-Sternberg cells (HRS).The HRS cells in turn recruit an abundance of ineffective inflammatory cells and infiltrates of immune cells.WHO-Classification-of-Hodgkin-Lymphoma

Preclinical studies suggest that HRS cells evade immune detection by exploiting the pathways associated with immune checkpoint, Programmed Death-1 (PD-1) and its ligands PD-L. Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma is an excellent example of how the tumor microenvironment influences cancer cells to proliferate and survive. The most common genetic abnormality in Nodular sclerosis subtype of Hodgkin lymphoma is the selective amplification of genes on the short arm of chromosome 9 (9p24.1) which includes JAK-2, with resulting increased expression of PD-1 ligands such as PDL1 and PDL2 on HRS cells, as well as increased JAK-STAT activity, essential for the proliferation and survival of Hodgkin Reed-Sternberg (HRS) cells. Infection with Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) similarly can increase the expression of PDL1 and PDL2 in EBV-positive Hodgkin lymphomas. It would therefore seem logical to block or inhibit immune check point PD-1 rather than both its ligands, PDL1 and PDL2.

Immune checkpoints are cell surface inhibitory proteins/receptors that are expressed on activated T cells. They harness the immune system and prevent uncontrolled immune reactions. KEYTRUDA® is a fully humanized, Immunoglobulin G4, anti-PD-1, monoclonal antibody, that binds to the PD-1 receptor and blocks its interaction with ligands PD-L1 and PD-L2, thereby undoing PD-1 pathway-mediated inhibition of the immune response and unleashing the tumor-specific effector T cells. ADCETRIS® (Brentuximab vedotin) is an Antibody-Drug Conjugate (ADC) that targets CD30, which is a surface antigen, expressed on Reed-Sternberg cells, in patients with Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma. This ADC consists of an anti-CD30 monoclonal antibody linked to MonoMethyl Auristatin E (MMAE), an antimicrotubule agent. Upon binding to the CD30 molecule on the cancer cells, MMAE is released into the cancer cell, resulting in cell death.

Patients with Relapsed or Refractory Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma (R/R cHL) are often treated with salvage chemotherapy and Autologous Stem Cell Transplant (ASCT). There are however no standard interventions for patients ineligible for ASCT due to chemo-refractory disease, comorbidity, or advanced stage. PD-1 inhibitor such as KEYTRUDA® as well as ADCETRIS® has shown antitumor activity in R/R cHL.

KEYNOTE-204 is a randomized, international, open-label, Phase III study in which KEYTRUDA® was compared with ADCETRIS® among patients with Relapsed or Refractory Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma (R/R cHL). In this study, 304 patients were randomized 1:1, and 300 patients were treated with either KEYTRUDA® 200 mg IV every 3 weeks (N=148) or ADCETRIS® 1.8 mg/kg IV every 3 weeks (N=152). Enrolled patients were post-Autologous Stem Cell Transplant (ASCT) or ineligible for ASCT, had measurable disease, and had an ECOG Performance Status of 0 or 1. Both ADCETRIS®-naive and ADCETRIS®-exposed patients were eligible. Patients were stratified by prior ASCT and status after first-line therapy (primary refractory versus relapsed less than 12 months versus relapsed 12 months or more after end of first-line therapy). The Primary endpoints were Progression Free Survival (PFS) per Blinded Independent Central Review (BICR) and Overall Survival (OS). Secondary endpoints included PFS per investigator review, Objective Response Rate (ORR), and Safety. The authors presented results from the second interim analysis, after a median follow up was 25.7 months.

The median PFS was 13.2 months in the KEYTRUDA® group compared with 8.3 months in the ADCETRIS® group (HR=0.65, P=0.0027), suggesting an increase in PFS of 4.9 months with KEYTRUDA®. This benefit with KEYTRUDA® was observed in all subgroups tested, including those ineligible for ASCT (HR=0.61), those with primary refractory disease (HR=0.52), those who were ADCETRIS® naïve (HR=0.67), as well as those who received prior treatment with ADCETRIS® (HR=0.34). The ORR was 65.6% versus 54.2% and this was considered non significant (P=0.023). The median Duration of Response was 20.7 months versus 13.8 months, in the KEYTRUDA® and ADCETRIS® groups respectively, with 62% versus 50% of responses lasting for at least 12 months. Treatment Related Adverse Events were similar in both treatment groups and Grade 3-5 toxicities occurred in 19.6% of patients treated with KEYTRUDA® and 25% of patients treated with ADCETRIS®.

It was concluded that among patients with Relapsed/Refractory Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma, KEYTRUDA® was superior to ADCETRIS®, with a statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in PFS across all subgroups tested, and with safety consistent with previous reports. The authors added that KEYTRUDA® should be considered the preferred treatment option and the new standard of care in this patient population. Further, KEYTRUDA® can be tolerated for extended periods as it is not associated with neurotoxicity.

Pembrolizumab versus brentuximab vedotin in relapsed or refractory classical Hodgkin lymphoma (KEYNOTE-204): an interim analysis of a multicentre, randomised, open-label, phase 3 study. Kuruvilla J, Ramchandren R, Santoro A, et al. Lancet Oncol. 2021;22:512-524.

Circulating Tumor DNA as a Biomarker in Advanced Colorectal Cancer

SUMMARY: Colorectal Cancer (CRC) is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 149,500 new cases of CRC will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021 and about 52,980 patients will die of the disease. The lifetime risk of developing CRC is about 1 in 23.

Cell-free DNA (cfDNA) refers to DNA molecules that circulate in the bloodstream after cell apoptosis or necrosis. A specific portion of cfDNA that originates from tumor cells is referred to as circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), which can be detected in the cell-free component of peripheral blood samples in almost all patients with advanced solid tumors, including advanced colorectal cancer. ctDNA is a valuable biomarker and allows early detection of relapse.Liquid-Biopsy

Patients with metastatic colorectal cancer are often treated with chemotherapy and sometimes surgical intervention. Treatment decisions are based on clinical and pathological characteristics such as tumor size and number of metastatic lesions, which is an arbitrary method of treatment stratification. ctDNA can be a potential biomarker of tumor biology and disease trajectory, and can be an important clinical decision tool. The present study was conducted to systematically review ctDNA in Stage IV colorectal cancer, and assess its potential role as a prospective biomarker, to guide treatment decisions.

This meta-analysis included 2823 patients from 28 studies. ctDNA was detectable in 80-90% of patients with metastatic CRC prior to treatment. This analysis found a strong correlation between detectable ctDNA after treatment with surgery or chemotherapy and Overall Survival (HR=2.2; P<0.00001), as well as Progression Free Survival (HR= 3.15; P<0.00001). Further, ctDNA as an early biomarker was able to consistently predict long term prognosis in patients with unresectable disease, with changes after one cycle of systemic therapy demonstrating prognostic value. In patients with surgically resectable disease treated with curative intent, detection of ctDNA offered a lead time of 10 months, over radiological recurrence.

The authors concluded from this analysis that ctDNA is detectable in the majority of resectable and unresectable patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, and the presence of ctDNA is clearly associated with shorter Overall Survival. ctDNA may serve as an early biomarker and dynamic assessment of ctDNA may predict treatment efficacy.

Circulating tumour DNA as a biomarker in resectable and irresectable stage IV colorectal cancer; a systematic review and meta-analysis. Jones RP, Pugh SA, Graham J, et al. Eur J Cancer. 2021 Feb;144:368-381. doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2020.11.025. Epub 2021 Jan 7.

Long Term Survival Benefit in Advanced Melanoma with OPDIVO® plus YERVOY®

SUMMARY: The American Cancer Society’s estimates that for 2021, about 106,110 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States and 7,180 people are expected to die of the disease. The rates of melanoma have been rising rapidly over the past few decades, but this has varied by age.

A better understanding of Immune checkpoints has opened the doors for the discovery of novel immune targets. Immune checkpoints are cell surface inhibitory proteins/receptors that harness the immune system and prevent uncontrolled immune reactions. Survival of cancer cells in the human body may be related to their ability to escape immune surveillance, by inhibiting T lymphocyte activation. Under normal circumstances, inhibition of an intense immune response and switching off the T cells of the immune system is accomplished by Immune checkpoints or gate keepers. With the recognition of Immune checkpoint proteins and their role in suppressing antitumor immunity, antibodies have been developed that target the membrane bound inhibitory Immune checkpoint proteins/receptors such as CTLA-4 (Cytotoxic T-Lymphocyte Antigen 4, also known as CD152), PD-1(Programmed cell Death 1), etc. By blocking the Immune checkpoint proteins, T cells are unleashed, resulting in T cell proliferation, activation and a therapeutic response.Unleashing-T-Cell-Function-with-Immune-Checkpoint-Inhibitors

YERVOY® (Ipilimumab) is a fully human immunoglobulin G1 monoclonal antibody that blocks Immune checkpoint protein/receptor CTLA-4, and was the first systemic therapy in randomized Phase III trials, to show prolonged Overall Survival (OS) in patients with advanced melanoma. YERVOY® in a pooled analysis of data from 12 studies showed a 3-year Overall Survival of 26% among treatment naive patients, and survival up to 10 years in approximately 20% of all patients, with advanced melanoma. The two PD-1 inhibitors of interest are OPDIVO® (Nivolumab) and KEYTRUDA® (Pembrolizumab), which are fully human, Immunoglobulin G4, anti-PD-1 targeted monoclonal antibodies that bind to the PD-1 receptor, and block its interaction with ligands PD-L1 and PD-L2, following which the tumor-specific effector T cells are unleashed. They are thus able to undo PD-1 pathway-mediated inhibition of the immune response. When compared with YERVOY® in patients with advanced melanoma, PD-1 inhibitors, both OPDIVO® and KEYTRUDA® have demonstrated superior Overall Survival (OS), Progression Free Survival (PFS), and Objective Response Rate (ORR), with a better safety profile. OPDIVO® in combination with YERVOY® in a Phase I study resulted in an Overall Survival of 68% at 3 years among patients with advanced melanoma, regardless of prior therapies.

CheckMate 067 is a double-blind Phase III study in which patients with previously untreated advanced melanoma were randomly assigned in a 1:1:1 ratio to receive one of the three regimens: OPDIVO® 1 mg/kg every 3 weeks plus YERVOY® 3 mg/kg every 3 weeks for four doses, followed by OPDIVO® 3 mg/kg every 2 weeks (N=314); OPDIVO® 3 mg/kg every 2 weeks plus placebo (N=316); or YERVOY® 3 mg/kg every 3 weeks for four doses plus placebo (N=315). Randomization was stratified according to BRAF mutation status, metastasis stage, and Programmed cell Death Ligand 1 (PD-L1) status. Treatment was continued until disease progression or unacceptable toxicities. The two Primary end points were PFS and OS in the OPDIVO® plus YERVOY® group, and in the OPDIVO® group versus the YERVOY® group.

As previously reported, there was a durable and sustained clinical benefit at 5 years, with superior PFS and OS among patients treated with OPDIVO® plus YERVOY® combination therapy or with OPDIVO® alone, compared with single agent YERVOY®. The authors in this publication reported the efficacy and safety outcomes in this untreated, unresectable Stage III or IV patients with advanced melanoma, after an extended follow up of 6.5 years.

The median Overall Survival for patients treated with OPDIVO® plus YERVOY® combination therapy was 72.1 months, for those treated with single agent OPDIVO® was 36.9 months, compared with 19.9 months with single agent YERVOY®. At the time of analysis at 6.5 years, 49% of patients treated with OPDIVO® plus YERVOY® were alive, compared to 42% of those treated with OPDIVO® alone and 23% of those treated with single agent YERVOY®. The PFS at 6.5 years was 34% for the OPDIVO® plus YERVOY® group, 29% for the OPDIVO® alone group, and 7% for the YERVOY® group.

It was concluded that the results from the 6.5 year analysis showed durable improved outcomes with OPDIVO® plus YERVOY®, and OPDIVO® alone, when compared to single agent YERVOY®, among patients with advanced melanoma. Further, there was an improvement in OS and PFS with OPDIVO® plus YERVOY®, over OPDIVO® alone. The authors added that this analysis represents the longest follow up from a Phase III melanoma trial in the modern checkpoint inhibitor combination therapy and targeted therapy era.

CheckMate 067: 6.5-year outcomes in patients (pts) with advanced melanoma. Wolchok JD, Chiarion-Sileni V, Gonzalez R, et al. J Clin Oncol 39, 2021 (suppl 15; abstr 9506)

Antibiotic Use and Early Onset Colon Cancer in Younger Individuals

SUMMARY: Colorectal Cancer (CRC) is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 149,500 new cases of CRC will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021 and about 52,980 patients will die of the disease. The lifetime risk of developing CRC is about 1 in 23.

Colorectal Cancer is a heterogeneous disease classified by its genetics, and even though the overall death rate has continued to drop, deaths from CRC among people younger than 55 years have increased 1% per year from 2008 to 2017, with 12% of CRC cases diagnosed in people under age 50. The proportion of the total number of patients diagnosed with CRC under the age of 50 yrs rose from 10% in 2004 to 12.2% in 2015 (P<0.0001). Younger adults presented with more advanced stage of disease (Stage III/IV) than those 50 yrs or older (51.6% versus 40.0% respectively). Based on these findings, the American Cancer Society in 2018 updated its guidelines to include a “qualified recommendation” to begin CRC screening at the age of 45 yrs. The increase in the incidence of CRC in young adults has been attributed to western style, high carbohydrate, high fat, low fiber diet, which can initiate inflammation and proliferation in the colonic mucosa within two weeks. Other lifestyle factors associated with CRC include obesity, high consumption of processed meat and alcohol, low levels of physical activity and cigarette smoking.

Preclinical studies have suggested that there is a very complex interplay of the immune system with the host’s microbiome and there may be a relationship between gut bacteria and immune response to cancer. The crosstalk between microbiota in the gut and the immune system allows for the tolerance of commensal bacteria (normal microflora) and oral food antigens and at the same time enables the immune system to recognize and attack opportunistic bacteria. Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors strongly rely on the influence of the host’s microbiome, and the gut microbial diversity enhances mucosal immunity, dendritic cell function, and antigen presentation.

There has been a significant increase in the global antibiotic consumption and colorectal cancer (CRC) rates in individuals aged less than 50 years since the late 1980s. Broad-spectrum antibiotics can potentially alter the bacterial composition and diversity of our gut microbiota, by killing the good bacteria. It has been postulated that this may influence CRC genesis in older patients and negate the benefits of immunotherapy and influence treatment outcomes.

The present study was conducted to investigate the association between exposure to antibiotics and risk of early onset CRC, and also evaluate antibiotic usage in older adults with CRC for comparison. In this case-control study, the authors using a large Scottish primary care database identified 7,903 cases of CRC (5,281 colon, 2,622 rectal) diagnosed between 1999 and 2011, along with 30,418 healthy controls. Analyses were conducted separately for those 50 years or older, diagnosed with early onset CRC. Prescriptions for oral antibiotics (by drug class and by anaerobic/non-anaerobic effect) were extracted and total antibiotic exposure period determined for each matched set. Total exposure time in days was then categorized. The researchers then investigated the associations between each exposure with antibiotics and CRC by tumor location, adjusting for comorbidities.

Antibiotic use was associated with increased risk of colon cancer in both age groups, but the risk was increased by nearly 50% in patients under age 50, compared to 9% in those older than 50 years. Antibiotic use was associated with a significantly increased risk of proximal colon cancer (right colon) among the under those under age 50, but not among the older age group. Quinolones and sulfonamides/trimethoprim antibiotics used to treat a wide range of infections were associated with these right side colon cancers. The researchers noted that this study doesn’t prove that antibiotics cause these cancers, only that there appears to a link.

It was concluded from the findings of this study that antibiotics may play a role in the development of colon cancer, particularly in the proximal colon, in individuals under age 50. The authors added that this is the first study to investigate antibiotic usage in early onset Colorectal Cancer and provides further reasons to reduce, where possible, frequent and unnecessary antibiotic prescribing.

Global rise in early-onset colorectal cancer: An association with antibiotic consumption? Perrott S, McDowell R, Murchie P, et al. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annonc.2021.05.049.

Updated Data on Fixed Duration VENCLEXTA® for Frontline Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

SUMMARY: The American Cancer Society estimates that for 2021, about 21,250 new cases of CLL will be diagnosed in the US and 4320 patients will die of the disease. CLL accounts for about one-quarter of the new cases of leukemia. The average age of patients diagnosed with CLL is around 70 years, and is rarely seen in people under age 40, and is extremely rare in children.

The pro-survival (anti-apoptotic) protein BCL2 is over expressed by CLL cells and regulates clonal selection and cell survival. A new class of anticancer agents known as BH3-mimetic drugs mimic the activity of the physiologic antagonists of BCL2 and related proteins and promote apoptosis (programmed cell death). VENCLEXTA® is a second generation, oral, selective, small molecule inhibitor of BCL2 and restores the apoptotic processes in tumor cells.MOA-of-VENCLEXTA

CLL14 Trial is a prospective, multicenter, open-label, randomized Phase III study conducted in close collaboration with the German CLL Study Group (DCLLSG). This study was designed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a fixed duration combination of VENCLEXTA® and GAZYVA® (Obinutuzumab) versus GAZYVA® and Chlorambucil in previously-untreated patients with CLL and coexisting medical conditions. In this trial, 432 treatment-naïve patients with CLL were randomized in a 1:1 ratio to receive fixed duration of 12 months of VENCLEXTA® in combination with six cycles of GAZYVA®, or 6 cycles of GAZYVA® in combination with Chlorambucil. Both treatment groups were well balanced and the median patient age was 72 years. The Primary endpoint was Progression Free Survival (PFS) assessed by an Independent Review Committee. Secondary endpoints included Minimal Residual Disease (MRD) status, Overall Response Rate, Complete Response, Complete Remission with Incomplete Hematologic Recovery (CRi), Overall Survival, duration of response, Time to Next CLL Treatment, and safety.

The median PFS was not reached in either treatment groups after a median follow-up of 28 months. The trial demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in PFS for patients who received VENCLEXTA® plus GAZYVA®, compared with those who received GAZYVA® plus Chlorambucil (HR 0.33; P<0.0001), suggesting a 67% reduction in the risk of progression or death with the VENCLEXTA® plus GAZYVA® combination. The Overall Response Rate was 85% in VENCLEXTA® plus GAZYVA® group compared to 71% in GAZYVA® plus Chlorambucil group (P=0.0007). Based on this data, the FDA in May 2019 approved VENCLEXTA® (Venetoclax) as frontline treatment for adult patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia or Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma (SLL).

The authors in this presentation provided updated efficacy and safety data from the ongoing follow up of the CLL14 study, with all patients off study treatment for at least 3 years. After a median follow-up of 52.4 months, PFS continued to be superior for VENCLEXTA® plus GAZYVA® group, compared to GAZYVA® plus Chlorambucil (median Not Reached versus 36.4 months; HR=0.33 P<0.0001). At 4 years after randomization, the estimated PFS rate was 74.0% in the VENCLEXTA® plus GAZYVA® arm and 35.4% in the GAZYVA® plus Chlorambucil arm. This benefit was noted across all clinical and biological risk groups, including patients with TP53 mutation/deletion (4-year PFS 53.0% versus 20.8%) and unmutated IGHV status (4-year PFS 68.0% versus 19.8%). Time to Next Treatment was significantly longer in the VENCLEXTA® plus GAZYVA® group, compared to GAZYVA® plus Chlorambucil group (4-year TTNT 81.1% versus 59.9%; HR=0.46, P<0.0001). Further, majority of patients received and responded to BTK inhibitor monotherapy as a second-line treatment after progressive disease in both the treatment groups.

Assessment of MRD in peripheral blood 30 months after the end of treatment showed that 26.9% of patients in the VENCLEXTA® group still had undetectable MRD (less than 10-4), compared with 3.2% in the GAZYVA® plus Chlorambucil group. The median OS has not yet been reached in either treatment groups. No new safety signals were observed.

It was concluded that the fixed duration combination of VENCLEXTA® plus GAZYVA® continued to confer a PFS advantage over GAZYVA® plus Chlorambucil, for patients with previously untreated CLL, and remains an effective treatment for all patients with CLL and with coexisting conditions.

Venetoclax-obinutuzumab for previously untreated chronic lymphocytic leukemia: 4-year follow-up analysis of the randomized CLL14 study. Al-Sawaf O, Zhang C, Robrecht S, et al. Presented at: European Hematology Association 2021 Virtual Congress; June 9-17, 2021. Abstract S146.

Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases among Older Breast Cancer Survivors

SUMMARY: Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the US and about 1 in 8 women (12%) will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Approximately 284,200 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2021 and about 44,130 individuals will die of the disease, largely due to metastatic recurrence.

Significant progress in breast cancer screening techniques, as well as new and novel therapies, have resulted in early cancer detection and improvement in the breast cancer 5-year survival rate in the US from 75% in the 1970s to 91% in the 2010s. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the most frequent cause of noncancer-related death, and cardiotoxicities associated with cancer treatments may increase cardiovascular risk in this population of breast cancer survivors. However, few studies have in detail quantified the risks of the different clinically important cardiovascular outcomes. The authors therefore assessed the prevalence of the different clinically specific cardiovascular outcomes at breast cancer diagnosis, and their incidence after diagnosis, among survivors 65 years or older in the US, and compared this with similar women without cancer.

The researchers performed a matched cohort study using prospectively collected data from the SEER-Medicare linked claims-based database and identified all women older than 65 years of age with an incident Stage I-III breast cancer diagnosis in 2004 through 2013. Each patient with breast cancer was matched at diagnosis with 5 cancer-free female counterparts. Baseline prevalence of specific cardiovascular outcomes was measured, and the risk for individual cardiovascular outcomes during follow up was calculated, taking into consideration time since diagnosis, race/ethnicity, prior Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), and age. This study included a total of 91,473 women with breast cancer and 454,197 without breast cancer.

It was noted that women with breast cancer had lower baseline prevalence of all CVDs. Breast cancer survivors had substantially increased risks of Deep Vein Thrombosis and pericarditis, compared with cancer-free female counterparts. There was also evidence of smaller increased risks of sudden cardiac arrest, arrhythmia, heart failure, and valvular heart disease. The increased risks of arrhythmia, heart failure, pericarditis, and Deep Vein Thrombosis were most pronounced in the first year and persisted for more than 5 years after cancer diagnosis. There was evidence of a decreased risk of incident angina, myocardial infarction, revascularization, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke in breast cancer survivors, although this was not constant over time.

The CVD risk during follow up was consistently higher in African American women diagnosed with breast cancer compared with Caucasian women, regardless of whether there was an overall increased or decreased risk of outcomes during the entire follow up period, and this is consistent with racial differences in overall CVD risk in the US.

Finally, there was consistently a greater risk of all cardiovascular outcomes in those diagnosed with Stage III, Grade 3, and ER/PR-negative breast cancer, which may be a reflection of the more aggressive cancer treatment regimens used in these subtypes.

The authors concluded that there is evidence of increased risk of several cardiovascular diseases in elderly women diagnosed with breast cancer in the US, compared with similar women without cancer, with this risk persisting for several years after diagnosis. They added that these results highlight the importance of periodic cardiovascular evaluation throughout the long term follow up of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases Among Older Breast Cancer Survivors in the United States: A Matched Cohort Study. Matthews AA, Hinton SP, Stanway S, et al. J Natl Compr Canc Netw 2021;19:275-284.

Subcutaneous DARZALEX® Plus POMALYST® and Dexamethasone Improves Progression Free Survival in Relapsed or Refractory Multiple Myeloma

SUMMARY: Multiple Myeloma is a clonal disorder of plasma cells in the bone marrow and the American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States, 34,920 new cases will be diagnosed in 2021 and 12,410 patients are expected to die of the disease. Multiple Myeloma (MM) in 2021 remains an incurable disease. The therapeutic goal therefore is to improve Progression Free Survival (PFS) and Overall Survival (OS). Multiple Myeloma is a disease of the elderly, with a median age at diagnosis of 69 years and characterized by intrinsic clonal heterogeneity. Almost all patients eventually will relapse, and patients with a high-risk cytogenetic profile, extramedullary disease or refractory disease have the worst outcomes. The median survival for patients with myeloma is over 10 years.

DARZALEX® is a human IgG1 antibody that targets CD38, a transmembrane glycoprotein abundantly expressed on malignant plasma cells and with low levels of expression on normal lymphoid and myeloid cells. DARZALEX® exerts its cytotoxic effect on myeloma cells by multiple mechanisms, including Antibody Dependent Cellular Cytotoxicity (ADCC), Complement Mediated Cytotoxicity and direct apoptosis. Additionally, DARZALEX® may have a role in immunomodulation, by depleting CD38-positive regulator Immune suppressor cells, and thereby expanding T cells, in patients responding to therapy. DARZALEX® has activity as both a single agent and when combined with other standard regimens. POMALYST® (Pomalidomide) is a novel, oral, immunomodulatory drug which is far more potent than THALOMID® (Thalidomide) and REVLIMID® (Lenalidomide), and has been shown to be active in REVLIMID® and VELCADE® refractory patients. In the EQUULEUS Phase Ib study, intravenous DARZALEX® in combination with POMALYST® and Dexamethasone in heavily pretreated relapsed or refractory Multiple Myeloma, resulted in a Very Good Partial Response (VGPR) or better in 42% of patients.Mechanism-of-Action-of-Daratumumab

Recently published studies have concluded that the subcutaneous formulation of DARZALEX® resulted in non-inferior pharmacokinetics and efficacy compared to the current IV formulation, and also importantly offers the potential for a fixed-dose administration, shorter administration times and a lower rate of infusion-related reactions with improved safety profile.

APOLLO study is an open-label, randomized, multicenter, Phase III trial, conducted by the European Myeloma Network investigators, to evaluate SubCutaneous (SC) formulation of DARZALEX® in combination with POMALYST® and Dexamethasone (D-Pd; N=151) versus POMALYST® and Dexamethasone (Pd; N=153) alone, in relapsed/refractory Multiple Myeloma patients who have received one or more prior lines of therapy including REVLIMID® and a Proteasome Inhibitor. This study enrolled 304 patients with relapsed or refractory Multiple Myeloma, and prior treatment with anti-CD38 antibody or POMALYST® was not permitted. Treatment for all patients consisted of POMALYST® 4 mg orally daily plus Dexamethasone 40 mg orally on days 1, 8, 15, and 22 (20 mg for patients aged 75 years or older), given every 28 days. Patients in the D-Pd group additionally received DARZALEX® 1800 mg SC co-formulated with recombinant human hyaluronidase PH20 (rHuPH20; ENHANZE® drug delivery technology, Halozyme, Inc.), given weekly for cycles 1 to 2, every 2 weeks for cycles 3 to 6, and every 4 weeks thereafter. The median age was 67 years, and 35% had high cytogenetic risk (presence of del17p, t[14;16], or t[4;14]). The median prior lines of therapy were 2, approximately 80% of patients were refractory to REVLIMID®, 48% of patients were refractory to a Proteosome Inhibitor, and 42% of patients were refractory to both agents. Treatment was continued until disease progression or unacceptable toxicity. The median duration of treatment was 11.5 months with D-Pd, compared with 6.6 months with Pd. The Primary endpoint was Progression Free Survival (PFS). Secondary endpoints included Overall Response Rate (ORR), Very Good Partial Response (VGPR), Complete Response (CR), MRD negativity rate, Overall Survival (OS), and Safety.

The study met its Primary endpoint of improved PFS in the primary analysis at a median follow up of 16.9 months. The median PFS for the D-Pd group was 12.4 months versus 6.9 months for Pd group (HR=0.63; P=0.0018). This represented a 37% reduction in the risk of progression or death in patients treated with D-Pd. Among patients who were refractory to REVLIMID®, median PFS was 9.9 months in the D-Pd group versus 6.5 months in the Pd group. This benefit was seen across all subgroups of patients, regardless of age, stage, prior line of therapy, REVLIMID® refractoriness and cytogenetic risk. D-Pd regimen was also superior to Pd regimen in terms of other endpoints, including ORR (69% versus 46%), VGPR or better (51% versus 20%), CR (25% versus 4%), and MRD negativity (9% versus 2%). Survival data are immature and follow up is ongoing. Infusion-related events were rare, and seen in 6% of patients treated with D-Pd, and local injection-site reactions which were all Grade 1 were seen in 2% of patients in the D-Pd group. Treatment discontinuation due to treatment-related adverse events, were similar for the D-Pd and Pd groups (2% versus 3%).

It was concluded that Subcutaneous DARZALEX® given along with POMALYST® and Dexamethasone significantly reduced the risk of progression or death by 37% in patients with relapsed/refractory Multiple Myeloma, compared to POMALYST® and Dexamethasone alone. The infusion-related reaction rate was very low and median duration of injection administration was short at 5 minutes. Subcutaneous DARZALEX® thus has a high likelihood of changing clinical practice, increasing convenience for patients and decreasing treatment burden.

Daratumumab plus pomalidomide and dexamethasone versus pomalidomide and dexamethasone alone in previously treated multiple myeloma (APOLLO): an open-label, randomised, phase 3 trial. Dimopoulos MA, Terpos E, Boccadoro M, et al. Lancet Oncol. 2021;22:801-812. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(21)00128-5

Adjuvant TECENTRIQ® Improves Disease Free Survival in Early Stage Non Small Cell Lung Cancer

SUMMARY: Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women and accounts for about 14% of all new cancers and 27% of all cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that for 2021, about 235,760 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed and 131,880 patients will die of the disease. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the United States. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) accounts for approximately 85% of all lung cancers. Of the three main subtypes of NSCLC, 30% are Squamous Cell Carcinomas (SCC), 40% are Adenocarcinomas and 10% are Large Cell Carcinomas. With changes in the cigarette composition and decline in tobacco consumption over the past several decades, Adenocarcinoma now is the most frequent histologic subtype of lung cancer.
Surgical resection is the primary treatment for approximately 30% of patients with NSCLC who present with early Stage (I–IIIA) disease. These patients are often treated with platinum-based adjuvant chemotherapy to decrease the risk of recurrence. Nonetheless, 45-75% of these patients develop recurrent disease. There is therefore an unmet need for this patient population.

TECENTRIQ® (Atezolizumab) is an anti PD-L1 monoclonal antibody, designed to directly bind to PD-L1 expressed on tumor cells and tumor-infiltrating immune cells, thereby blocking its interactions with PD-1 and B7.1 receptors expressed on activated T cells. PD-L1 inhibition may prevent T-cell deactivation and further enable the activation of T cells.

IMpower 010 is a global, multicentre, open-label, randomized Phase III study evaluating the efficacy and safety of TECENTRIQ® compared with Best Supportive Care (BSC), in patients with Stage IB-IIIA NSCLC, following surgical resection and up to 4 cycles of adjuvant Cisplatin-based chemotherapy. In this study, 1005 patients were randomized 1:1 to receive TECENTRIQ® 1200 mg IV every 3 weeks for 16 cycles, or BSC. Both study groups were well balanced and eligible patients had an ECOG PS of 0-1. The Primary endpoint was Disease Free Survival (DFS) in the PD-L1-positive Stage II-IIIA patients, all randomized Stage II-IIIA patients and Intent to Treat (ITT) Stage IB-IIIA populations. Key Secondary endpoints included Overall Survival (OS) in the overall study population and ITT Stage IB-IIIA NSCLC patients. At data cutoff on January 21, 2021, median follow up was 32.2 months in the ITT population.

Treatment with TECENTRIQ® following surgery and chemotherapy reduced the risk of disease recurrence or death (DFS) by 34% (HR=0.66; P=0.0039), in patients with Stage II-IIIA NSCLC, whose tumor PD-L1 expression was 1% or more, compared with BSC. In this patient population, median DFS was Not Reached for TECENTRIQ®, compared with 35.3 months for BSC.

In the larger population of all randomized Stage II-IIIA study patients, TECENTRIQ® reduced the risk of disease recurrence or death by 21% (HR=0.79, P=0.02). In this patient population, TECENTRIQ® increased DFS by a median of seven months, compared with BSC (42.3 months versus 35.3 months).

The significance boundary was not crossed for DFS in the ITT patient population. Overall Survival data were immature and not formally tested. Safety data for TECENTRIQ® were consistent with its known safety profile and no new safety signals were identified.

It was concluded that this study met its Primary endpoint, and is the first Phase III study to demonstrate that treatment with TECENTRIQ® following surgery and chemotherapy can significantly delay disease recurrence in patients with early stage lung cancer, with a more pronounced benefit noted, in patients with tumor PD-LI expression of 1% or more.

IMpower010: Primary results of a phase III global study of atezolizumab versus best supportive care after adjuvant chemotherapy in resected stage IB-IIIA non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Wakelee HA, Altorki NK, Zhou C, et al. J Clin Oncol. 2021;39:(suppl 15; abstr 8500). doi:10.1200/JCO.2021.39.15_suppl.8500

FDA Approves KEYTRUDA® plus Trastuzumab and Chemotherapy for HER2 Positive Gastric or Gastroesophageal Junction Cancer

SUMMARY: The FDA on May 5, 2021 granted accelerated approval to KEYTRUDA® (Pembrolizumab) in combination with Trastuzumab, Fluoropyrimidine and Platinum-containing chemotherapy for the first-line treatment of patients with locally advanced unresectable or metastatic HER2 positive Gastric or GastroEsophageal Junction (GEJ) adenocarcinoma. The American Cancer Society estimates that in the US, about 26,560 new cases of Gastric cancer will be diagnosed in 2021 and about 11,180 people will die of the disease. It is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the world. Several hereditary syndromes such as Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer (HDGC), Lynch syndrome (Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer) and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) have been associated with a predisposition for Gastric cancer. Additionally, one of the strongest risk factor for Gastric adenocarcinoma is infection with Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori), which is a gram-negative, spiral-shaped microaerophilic bacterium.

Majority of the patients with Gastric and GastroEsophageal (GE) Adenocarcinoma have advanced disease at the time of initial presentation and have limited therapeutic options with little or no chance for cure. The Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor (HER) or erbB family of receptors, consist of HER1, HER2, HER3 and HER4. Approximately 15-20% of advanced Gastric and GastroEsophageal (GE) junction cancers, overexpress or have amplification of the HER2 oncogene. These patients often receive first line treatment with a combination of chemotherapy plus anti-HER2 antibody, Trastuzumab, as there is Overall Survival (OS) benefit with this combination regimen.
KEYTRUDA® is a fully humanized, Immunoglobulin G4, anti-PD-1, monoclonal antibody, that binds to the PD-1 receptor expressed on activated T cells, and blocks its interaction with ligands PD-L1 and PD-L2. It thereby reverses the PD-1 pathway-mediated inhibition of the immune response and unleashes the tumor-specific effector T cells. In two Phase II studies, KEYTRUDA® in combination with Trastuzumab and chemotherapy showed promising efficacy with manageable toxicities.

The present FDA approval was based on KEYNOTE-811 trial, an ongoing global, multicenter, randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, Phase III study, which assessed whether adding KEYTRUDA® to Standard of Care chemotherapy improved efficacy, compared to Standard of Care alone, among patients with HER2+ metastatic Gastric/GEJ cancer. A total of 692 patients were enrolled and patients were randomized (1:1) to receive KEYTRUDA® 200 mg IV or placebo IV every 3 weeks, in combination with Trastuzumab and investigator’s choice of Fluorouracil plus Cisplatin (FP), or Capecitabine plus Oxaliplatin (CAPOX). Treatment is being given for up to 2 years or until intolerable toxicity or progressive disease. Patients were enrolled irrespective of PD-L1 status, and HER2-positive status was defined as ImmunoHistoChemistry (IHC) 3+ or IHC 2+ and FISH positivity. The dual Primary end points are Progression Free Survival (PFS) by Blinded, Independent Central Review (BICR) and Overall Survival (OS). Secondary end points are Overall Response Rate (ORR) and Duration of Response (DOR) assessed by BICR, and Safety.

The first interim analysis included 264 patients with a median follow up of 12 months. At the time of this interim analysis, 133 patients were randomized to KEYTRUDA® plus Standard of Care and 131 patients to Placebo plus Standard of care. Approximately 88% and 85% of the patients in the KEYTRUDA® and Placebo groups respectively, had a PD-L1 Combined Positive Score of 1 or more.
The confirmed ORR was 74.4% for KEYTRUDA® plus Standard of Care versus 51.9% for Placebo plus Standard of care (P=0.00006). The Complete Response rate was 11.3% versus 3.1% and Disease Control Rate was 96.2% versus 89.3% respectively. The median Duration of Response was 10.6 months for patients treated with KEYTRUDA® and 9.5 months for those in the placebo group. Adverse Events were similar between the two treatment groups and immune-mediated pneumonitis and colitis were more common as expected, in the KEYTRUDA® group.

It was concluded that the addition of KEYTRUDA® to Trastuzumab and chemotherapy, as first line therapy for HER2+ metastatic Gastric/GE Junction cancer, resulted in a substantial, statistically significant increase in Overall Response Rate, compared to Trastuzumab and chemotherapy alone. The authors added that these initial data are practice-changing and support KEYTRUDA® plus Trastuzumab and chemotherapy as a potential new treatment option for this patient group.

Pembrolizumab plus trastuzumab and chemotherapy for HER2+ metastatic gastric or gastroesophageal junction (G/GEJ) cancer: Initial findings of the global phase 3 KEYNOTE-811 study. Janjigian YY, Kawazoe A, Yanez PE, et al. DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2021.39.15_suppl.4013 Journal of Clinical Oncology 39, no. 15_suppl (May 20, 2021) 4013-4013.