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The Lancet Oncology

Monday, September 28, 2009

International Trial Shows Aspirin Protects Against Colorectal Cancer

A daily dose of aspirin can prevent the occurrence of cancer in people with a genetic predisposition towards Lynch syndrome, a condition which accounts for around five percent of all colon cancers, a scientist told the audience at Europe’s largest cancer congress, ECCO 15 – ESMO 34, the joint 15th European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) and 34th European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Multidisciplinary Congress, September 20 – 24 in Berlin, Germany.

Professor John Burn, from the Institute of Human Genetics, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, said that he believed that he and his colleagues might have uncovered a simple way of controlling cancer stem cells, which are essential to the formation of malignant tumors.

The clinical trial, which involved 1071 carriers of the Lynch syndrome mutation in 42 centers worldwide, randomized participants to a daily dose of 600mg aspirin and/or 30g Novelose®, a resistant starch that escapes digestion in the small intestine. “Although there were many reports that aspirin might have a beneficial effect in a range of cancers,” said Prof Burn, “they were from case control and epidemiological studies. We decided that the only way to achieve conclusive proof was to undertake a randomized trial in a high risk population.”

Lynch syndrome, often called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), is a rare type type of inherited cancer of the digestive tract that increases a patient’s risk of cancer, particularly the colon and rectum. People with Lynch syndrome have an increased risk of cancers of the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder ducts, upper urinary tract, brain, skin, and prostate. Women carriers also have a high risk of developing endometrial and ovarian cancers.

These patients tend to develop cancer quickly, so the scientists expected to see answers at an early stage. The first results were disappointing, however; at an average of 29 months after randomization the scientists saw no evidence of the benefits of aspirin in the high-risk population studied.

Our original design allowed for long term post trial follow-up,” noted Prof Burn. “We have managed to track down most of those who completed the trial – around 75% of the original consent cohort – with information extending up to 10 years from randomization. We found that, around four years after randomization, there was a divergence in the incidence of cancers between the aspirin and placebo groups. To date, there have been only six colon cancers in the aspirin group as opposed to 16 who took placebo. There is also a reduction in endometrial cancer. This is a statistically significant result and we are delighted – all the more so because we stopped giving the aspirin after four years, yet the effect is continuing, and is directly correlated with the duration of aspirin use on the trial.”

Although scientists believe that diet is a major factor in the prevention of colorectal cancers, there are no randomized trial data which can prove it, since running proper, controlled trials of diet is extremely difficult. However, there is a strong inverse relationship between colon cancer and how much starch people eat. Resistant starch, after escaping digestion in the upper gut, is fermented in the colon and forms short chain fatty acids, which are powerful anti-cancer agents.

“Our very large colon probably evolved to capture such nutrients from our forefathers’ diets,” explained Prof Burn. “Because we were giving starch as well as aspirin we would also have expected to see a decrease in cancers in the placebo group. However, there could be a number of reasons for this result – perhaps patients didn’t take the starch every day, or that it simply wasn’t resistant enough.”

There were minor problems due to aspirin side effects; out of over 1000 people, 11 in the aspirin group had notable gastro-intestinal bleeds or ulcers as opposed to nine in the placebo group. But this was counter-balanced by fewer strokes and heart attacks in the aspirin group.

The mechanism by which aspirin protects against cancer has yet to be elucidated, but the scientists believe that cancer stem cells are involved. “We do not think that the mechanisms discussed to date are likely to provide an explanation,” said Prof Burn. “For example, the inflammatory enzyme COX2(Cyclooxygenase-2), a protein that acts as an enzyme and specifically catalyzes the production of certain chemical messengers called prostaglandins, is over-expressed in early cancer, but our results suggest an effect that predates the cancer, and may even predate the adenoma which precedes it. We believe that aspirin may have an effect on the survival of aberrant stem cells in the colon. These cancer stem cells are normally resistant to chemotherapy, but if a stem cell mutates but does not reveal its potential until an adenoma is formed, and if aspirin reduced the chances of such cells surviving, this would explain our results.”

The team intends to undertake a further study to see whether a smaller dose of aspirin would have the same beneficial effect or not. “We are planning to ask people with Lynch syndrome to agree to ‘toss a coin’ and take, say, either one or two aspirin tablets per day. Then we can see whether the people on the lower dose have the same protection, with fewer side effects. The problem is that, to have a significant result, this will need about 10 times as many people as we needed for our first trial, but the good news is that everyone gets treated,” said Prof Burn.

For more information:
  • Abstract no: 6000, Gastro-intestinal malignancies, colorectal cancer session, Monday 11.00 hrs CEST (Hall 2)

Also read these PubMed abstracts:

The Experience and Impact of Teenage Cancer Diagnosis Reveals Major Struggle

New research provides unique insight into what it is like for teenagers and young people to go through the process of obtaining a cancer diagnosis, revealing stories of prolonged suffering, acute distress and intense frustration for some over their symptoms not being taken seriously.

The study, presented by British researchers at Europe’s largest cancer congress, ECCO 15 – ESMO 34, the joint 15th European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) and 34th European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Multidisciplinary Congress, September 20 – 24 in Berlin, Germany, is the first to have asked young people with cancer about their experiences from the time of first symptoms to diagnosis and provides lessons for catching the disease earlier and improving the care and experience of patients in this age group, about whom little is known.

Cancer is rare in teenagers and young people, with those aged between 15 and 24 years accounting for less than two percent of all cancer cases worldwide. But the rates are twice as high as they are in children and the disease is the most frequent cause of death in this age group after accidents. The long-term outcome for some tumor types is thought to be relatively poor compared with that for children and adults and delay in diagnosis is thought to be one of the key factors in this. The problem of diagnostic delay is widely acknowledged but is perhaps the least understood aspect of the young person’s cancer journey.

“While being diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening disease is a distressing experience for any patient, a cancer diagnosis, and the process leading up to it, can have a particularly poignant impact on teenagers because that stage of development already presents significant challenges in developing independence, identity and in coping with the world. Research in this area has been limited and better understanding of the complexities of their experience in the pre-diagnostic period is crucial if we are to provide the most comprehensive and sensitive care and improve their outcomes,” said one of the study’s researchers, Ms Susie Pearce, a health service researcher for young people with cancer at University College Hospital in London.

The researchers conducted narrative interviews with 24 young people aged between 16 and 24, two to four months after they had been diagnosed with solid tumors in one of four major centers in England. The medical notes of each participant were also analyzed in the study.

While the individual experiences varied in terms of how their symptoms evolved and were responded to, several common themes emerged. Key findings included a pattern of young voices not being heard, delays in diagnosis and a misconception among young people and society as a whole that young people don’t get cancer.

“While symptoms in some young people were promptly recognized by GPs and referred to specialists quickly, other patients recounted tales of protracted periods of suffering, with rationalization of their own symptoms or numerous disappointing visits to doctors and hospitals before the cancer was diagnosed,” said Pearce, adding that the time period between first symptoms and diagnosis ranged from eight weeks to 11 years.

Examples of symptoms being missed by general practitioners or accident and emergency doctors included being told it is normal to be tired, that symptoms are due to menstrual problems, fluid on the knee, irritable bowel syndrome, excess weight or lack of exercise.

“One consistent thread through these stories is young people’s perception that they were not being listened to and that cancer was being ruled out on age alone,” explained Pearce. “For instance, one eventually thought she was going mad after three months of headaches and 12 visits to the GP and A&E. Finally, after breaking down at the GP’s surgery, she was referred to the specialist and was later diagnosed with neuroblastoma. It seemed that extreme levels of worry and distress had to be reached before the right course of action was taken.”

In another case, a 22-year-old young woman who was diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to the liver recounted a frustrating battle to be taken seriously after nine or ten years of suspicious symptoms such as food aversion, abdominal pain, frequent diarrhea and rectal bleeding from the age of 14 and two separate diagnoses of familial adenomatous polyposis, or FAP, a hereditary syndrome that carries a very high risk of colon cancer.

“Basically because I grew up with the symptoms no-one went ding din ding… red light warning, we need to do something about this,” she told the researchers. “I said ‘look, this is ridiculous. I am passing blood a lot, diarrhoea, tummy ache. I want to get it sorted because it’s ruining, not ruining but it’s taking over my life’ …They look at you and they say you are too young for this. If you are old, they will do something about it.”

Pearce noted: “She felt quite strongly that if she had been 40 or 50 her symptoms would have been picked up on at a very early stage and she would have been fine, but lots of cues were missed because nobody was thinking that she could have colon cancer.” Sadly, after her participation in the study, this young woman died.

In another example, a 23-year-old young woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 10 months after her first symptoms said: “I wish they had just listened to me in the beginning. I’d like them more aware so you can’t just be shoved away out the door. It’s your life … it’s your whole world they are talking about and they are not taking it seriously.”

The researchers found that the reaction of others, particularly parents, was important in determining how long the patients were willing to put up with symptoms and how assertive they were at pushing for an answer to their concerns.

“There seemed to be a trigger point at which further help was sought. That threshold came when normal physical, social and emotional functioning became impossible and the symptoms could no longer be dismissed as normal,” Ms Pearce said. “Prompting, confirmation and support from others was crucial in the acknowledgment of threat and seriousness of the need for action.”

The sense of relief once they had arrived in specialist care was striking. They felt they were in safe hands, with experts whom they now had confidence in, the study found. However, some said their struggle to get to that point prompted them to lose trust in their GP or the hospital Accident & Emergency system and that they would be reluctant to seek the help of those professionals again.

“The stories related here are, sadly, far from unique. Doctors should be making urgent referrals when children or young people come to see them several times with the same problem and persistent parental anxiety should be sufficient reason for referral,” Pearce said, adding that the study recommends research into interventions such as education in schools and universities and better education of health professionals, including school nurses, university health centers and general practitioners so that classic signs are investigated properly and promptly.

The 23-year-old ovarian cancer patient’s advice to young people was: “Listen to your intuition and be strong. If you think something is wrong just keep pushing.”

The study was funded by CLIC Sargent, the UK-based children and young people’s cancer charity.

For more information:

  • Abstract no: 4170. Experiences of Care proffered papers session, Tuesday 09.00 hrs CEST (Hall 10)

Also read these PubMed abstracts:

Novel Cancer Drug Test May Results in Safer and More Effective Clinical Trials

A group of scientists from Hamburg may have taken a big step towards more effective cancer drug development. Dr Ilona Schonn, Director of Cell Culture Research at Indivumed GmbH, a company specialized in the analysis and procurement of highly standardized tissue samples and data of tumor patients, told the audience at Europe’s largest cancer congress, the joint 15th European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) and 34th European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Multidisciplinary Congress, September 20 – 24 in Berlin, Germany, that they had developed a preclinical drug test platform that would enable researchers to analyze tumor tissue for individual patient drug responses on the molecular level.

To date most tests for drug metabolism and toxicity testing have used tissue slices of normal organs like liver, kidney and lung. The new test was created specifically for oncology drug testing and uses tumor tissues from colorectal and lung cancer patients.

A major problem of drug development at present is the inability to extrapolate response in preclinical cell models to patients. “Approximately 90% of clinical trials fail because the drugs used are too ineffective or too toxic,” explained Dr Schonn. “Not only does this result in unacceptably high costs for drug development, but it also exposes patients to risks from toxicity or simply wastes their time in testing a substance which proves to be ineffective.”

The problem arises from the fact that patients respond individually to drugs. In addition, each tumor consists of a variety of different cancer cells that interact in different ways with the framework of individual non-tumor cells, resulting in highly variable growth behavior and response to drugs. Dr Schonn and her team set out to try to develop a drug test that would eliminate these problems and provide an accurate model of individual patient response.

“Based on freshly cultivated intact tissue from surgically treated cancer patients we are now able to analyze numerous tumors from different patients, to identify differences in drug response between those patients, and to understand variations of response in cell subtypes within one tumor,” said Dr Schonn.

The new test allows scientists to translate findings from commonly used cell lines to a preclinical model which is as close as possible to using the same drug in the clinical setting, thus enabling a better estimate of the number of patients who are likely to respond to the treatment. It also helps to identify biomarkers that can predict drug response for patients entering a clinical trial, allowing researchers to include only those patients whose participation will provide a significant answer to the question being asked.

“Together with all the clinical patient data and several analytical test systems such as signaling pathway analysis, we have been able to characterize individual tumors in more detail. This will improve the understanding of drug effects and treatments, a step forward towards the goal of individualized cancer therapy,” she said. “The test is of particular interest to pharmaceutical companies because it allows the analysis of samples from meaningful number of patients with different tumors in a short period of time, and can, therefore, accelerate progression of a potential new treatment to clinical trials.”

In addition, it can help gain more knowledge about the mode of action of a new compound in patients, and identify optimal disease areas, for example tumors with particular mutations or over-expression of target receptors, and dosage.

To date the test has only been validated in colon, non-small cell lung (NSCLC), and breast cancer tumors but there is no reason to think that it would not be equally accurate in other solid tumor types, the scientists say.

“Because the test allows us to maintain the complex environment of the primary cancer tumor, we believe that it holds out great promise for the quick and effective elucidation of response to anticancer drugs,” said Dr Schonn. “We hope to be able to apply it to a growing number of drugs emerging from the labs of pharmaceutical companies to help to shorten development time and to make clinical trials both more efficient and safer for patients.”

The test can analyze numerous tumors from different patients, identify the patients’ diverse reactions to the test compounds and elucidate their varying effects on cell subtypes within the same tumor. Says Prof Dr Hartmut Juhl, CEO and founder of Indivumed. “In the long run, our test paves the way to personalized medicine, because it helps to understand and to embrace the individual reactions of the patients to a certain therapy.”

For more information:
  • Abstract no: 1013, Basic Science/Translational Research poster discussion, Wednesday 17.00 – 18.00 hrs CEST (Hall 14.2)

Ultrasound can Predict Tumor Burden and Survival in Melanoma Patients, Sparing Unnecessary Surgery

Ultrasound can predict tumor burden and survival in melanoma patients. Researchers have shown for the first time that patterns of ultrasound signals can be used to identify whether or not cancer has started to spread in melanoma patients, and to what extent. The discovery enables doctors to decide on how much surgery, if any, is required and to predict the patient’s probable survival.

Dr Christiane Voit told Europe’s largest cancer congress, the joint 15th European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) and 34th European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Multidisciplinary Congress, September 20 – 24 in Berlin, Germany: “We have identified two ultrasound patterns of lymph node metastasis in melanoma patients which can identify correctly any amount of tumor cells in the sentinel lymph nodes in 75-90% of cases before proceeding to surgery on the sentinel lymph nodes.”

Voit, who is a dermatologist and head of the diagnostic unit at the Skin Cancer Centre at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Medical University of Berlin, said that although her research needs to be confirmed in multi-centre, randomized clinical trials, it had the potential to spare patients unnecessary surgery, especially if it was combined with ultrasound-guided fine needle biopsy of lymph nodes rather than conventional surgery.

Since 2001 Dr Voit and her colleagues in Germany and The Netherlands have included 850 melanoma patients in a prospective study to investigate the use of ultrasound in diagnosis and treatment planning. They have already demonstrated that ultrasound-guided fine needle biopsy of sentinel nodes before conventional sentinel node surgery can identify up to 65% of patients in whom the cancer has started to spread. The study presented today shows how far ultrasound patterns correlate with disease progression, tumor burden, survival and prognosis in the first 400 of these patients with stage I/II melanoma and with the longest follow-up.

Before having sentinel node surgery the patients were investigated using ultrasound, and these results were checked against the results of the subsequent surgery. The researchers found that two ultrasound patterns together could correctly identify the amount of cancer cells in the lymph nodes in 80% of cases.

A balloon shape ultrasound pattern with or without loss of central echoes (where the lymph node has lost central echoes or still has some residual central echoes, but these are wandering toward the rim, giving an asymmetrical shape to the centre) was an indicator in up to 83% of cases of a large amount of cancer cells in the sentinel node. “This ultrasound pattern was a late sign, only occurring in cases of advanced metastasis,” said Voit.

A pattern of peripheral perfusion (where small blood vessels start to surround the lymph node) was an early sign of a small number of cancer cells present. “The early signs are signs of first disruption of the normal lymph node architecture by an early stage metastasis. The most important one is peripheral perfusion, which shows angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) is occurring,” she explained.

The researchers found that these two ultrasound patterns could predict overall survival. Estimates for overall survival after five years for patients with stage I/II is between 50-90% depending on the state of the tumour. Dr Voit found that 93% of patients with neither of these ultrasound patterns, 87% of patients with peripheral perfusion, and 56% of patients with balloon shapes with or without loss of central echoes, survived for at least five years; survival without cancer spreading to other parts of the body was 74%, 60% and 26% respectively.

Dr Voit said: “For the first time we have established that ultrasound patterns can be used as criteria for diagnosing disease progression and tumor burden. Balloon shaped lymph nodes with or without loss of central echoes and peripheral perfusion are independent prognostic factors for survival.”

Discovering if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes is the most important factor influencing the prognosis and treatment of melanoma patients. Doctors usually cut out one or two key lymph nodes, called sentinel nodes, and use these as an indicator of whether or not the cancer has spread to the other lymph nodes. If the sentinel node is free of cancer, patients don’t need to have more extensive lymph node removal.

However, only 20% of patients who have a sentinel node biopsy have cancer that has spread there, and so the operation, which can be accompanied by side effects such as chronic swelling and seroma, is unnecessary for 80% of patients. Using ultrasound first to detect the presence or not of sentinel node metastases could be a non-invasive way of limiting the numbers of patients who require subsequent surgery or simply watchful follow-up care.

For more information:

  • Abstract no: 9303. Melanoma session, Wednesday 14.45-17.00 hrs CEST (Hall 7)

Also read these PubMed abstracts:

Images courtesy American Society of Clinical oncology (ASCO).

Sorafenib (Nexavar®) Significantly Improves the Length of Time Before Breast Cancer Worsens: Results From First, Large Randomized Trial

Approximately 30 studies evaluating the use of sorafenib (Nexavar®, Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals/Onyx Pharmaceuticals)tablets across tumor types – as a single agent or in combination with other therapies – were presented at Europe’s largest cancer congress, the joint 15th European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) and 34th European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Multidisciplinary Congress, September 20 – 24 in Berlin.

The presentations at the ECCO/ESMO conference continue to build on our large body of data in unresectable liver cancer and advanced kidney cancer where sorafenib has a proven track record,” said Dimitris Voliotis, Vice President, Global Clinical Development Oncology. “Additionally, we are very enthusiastic about the presented Phase 2 studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of sorafenbib in other tumor types, including breast and thyroid cancers.”

One of the first of a series of trials to investigate the use of sorafenib – a targeted anti-cancer drug – for the treatment of advanced breast cancer has found that if it is combined with the chemotherapy drug, capecitabine (Xeloda®, Roche, Basel, Switzerland), it makes a significant difference to the time women live without their disease worsening.

Principal investigator of the study, Professor José Baselga told his audience: “This is the first, large, randomized study that demonstrates significant clinical activity of sorafenib in breast cancer when given in combination with chemotherapy. Our results showed that patients who received sorafenib plus capecitabine had a 74% percent improvement in the time they lived without their disease worsening compared to those who received the chemotherapy alone. This is a very positive study and the magnitude of the benefit is such that it suggests that this agent will be an important addition to our therapeutic armory in breast cancer.”

Sorafenib is a potent multi-kinase inhibitor, which works by interfering with the growth of cancer cells and slowing the growth of new blood vessels within the tumor. Until now, it has only been used in the treatment of kidney and liver cancer.

Prof Baselga, who is head of the oncology department at Vall d’Hebron University Hospital (Barcelona, Spain), president of ESMO (European Society for Medical Oncology) and a member of the ECCO (European CanCer Organization) executive committee, and his colleagues in Spain, France and Brazil enrolled 229 patients with locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer in the double-blind, randomized phase II clinical trial between June 2007 and December 2008. They randomized the patients to receive capecitabine (1000 mg/m2 pill taken twice daily for 14 of every 21 days) and a placebo (114 women), or capecitabine and sorafenib (400 mg pill taken twice daily continuously) for 115 women.

The very first results from the trial only became available in time for the ECCO 15 – ESMO 34 congress, and they show that the average progression free survival (the time that elapses without the cancer getting worse) was 6.4 months for women on capecitabine and sorafenib compared to 4.1 months for women taking the placebo. It is too early for data on overall survival to be available. The only death that occurred was in the placebo arm of the trial, attributed to the effect of capecitabine. The number of patients discontinuing treatment due to adverse side-effects was nine (8%) in the placebo arm and 15 (13.4%) in the sorafenib arm of the trial.

Prof Baselga said: “The regimen was tolerable and the side-effects were mostly manageable. No new or unexpected side effects were observed with this combination. The fact that this treatment could be taken orally may represent a unique and convenient treatment option for patients with breast cancer.

“This trial is an example of good academia and industry partnership. It was designed and conducted by the Spanish breast cooperative group SOLTI with the participation also of Brazilian and French groups. The trial was fully supported by Onyx and Bayer. Based on the encouraging data from this trial so far, Onyx and Bayer are evaluating various strategies for sorafenib in breast cancer.

“This trial is the first of a series of randomized phase II studies with sorafenib that are currently underway in breast cancer. Based on our results, we believe that the drug shows considerable promise for the treatment of the disease.”

For more information:

  • Jose Baselga, M.D., Vall d'Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, Spain. A double-blind, randomized phase 2b study evaluating the efficacy and safety of sorafenib (SOR) compared to placebo (PL) when administered in combination with capecitabine (CAP) in patients (pts) with locally advanced (adv) or metastatic (met) breast cancer (BC). Late-breaking abstract 3LBA, Presidential Session III, Wednesday, September 23, 1:30 p.m., Hall 1

Other trial results:

Hepatocellular Carcinoma

  • Jean-Luc Raoul, M.D., Centre Eugène Marquis, Rennes, France. Effect of Macroscopic Vascular Invasion (MVI), Extrahepatic Spread (EHS), and ECOG Performance Status (ECOG PS) on Outcome in Patients with Advanced Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) Treated with Sorafenib: Analysis of Two Phase 3, Randomized Double-Blind Trials. Abstract 6621, Poster 309, Wednesday, September 23, 2009, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., Hall 14.1
  • Josep Llovet, M.D., Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) Group, Liver Unit, CIBERehd, IDIBAPS, Hospital Clinic Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain. Efficacy and Safety of Sorafenib in Patients with Advanced Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC): Collective Results from the Phase III Sorafenib HCC Assessment Randomized Protocol (SHARP) and Asia-Pacific (AP) Trials. Abstract 6519, Poster 13, Tuesday, September 22, 2009, 8 a.m. – 11 a.m., Poster Discussion, 11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m., Central Lobby (Outside Hall 3)

Renal Cell Carcinoma

  • Joachim Beck, M.D., Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität III. Medizinische Klinik, Mainz, Germany. Final Analysis of a Large Open-label, Noncomparative, Phase 3 Study of Sorafenib in European Patients with Advanced RCC (EU-ARCCS). Abstract 7137, Poster 150, Monday, September 21, 2009, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., Hall 14.1
  • Hideyuki Akaza, M.D., Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan. Efficacy and Safety of Long-term Use of Sorafenib: Final Report of a Phase II Trial of Sorafenib in Japanese Patients with Unresectable/Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma. Abstract 7147, Poster 160, Monday, September 21, 2009, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., Hall 14.1
  • Ronald M. Bukowski, M.D., Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center, Cleveland, OH. Efficacy and Safety of Sorafenib in Patients with Advanced Clear-Cell Renal-Cell Carcinoma (RCC) with Bone Metastases: Results from the Phase III TARGET Study Abstract 7130, Poster 143, Monday, September 21, 2009, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., Hall 14.1
  • Dirk Jäger, M.D., National Center for Tumor Diseases, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany. PREDICT (Patient characteristics in REnal cell carcinoma and Daily practICe Treatment with Nexavar) Global Non-interventional Study: First interim results. Abstract 7128, Poster 141, Monday, September 21, 2009, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., Hall 14.1

Thyroid Cancer

  • Marcia Brose, M.D., Ph.D. Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology and Department of Otorhinolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery, Abrahamson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, U.S.A. Completion of a Phase II study of sorafenib for advanced thyroid cancer. Late-breaking poster 51LBA, Poster 276, Tuesday, September 22, 11 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Hall 14.1

Highlights of Prescribing Information:

Also read these Pubmed Abstracts:

Identification of Highly Radiosensitive Patients May Lead to Side Effect-free Personalized Radiotherapy

An international group of scientists has taken the first step on the road to targeting radiotherapy dosage to individual patients by means of their genetic characteristics, a radiation oncologist told Europe’s largest cancer congress, ECCO 15 – ESMO 34, the 15th congress of the European CanCer Organization and the 34th congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology, in Berlin today.

Professor Dirk de Ruysscher, from Maastricht University Medical Centre, Maastricht, The Netherlands, said that his team’s work might provide the basis for personalized radiotherapy in which, with a simple blood test, doctors may be able to select the optimal radiation dose for a particular patient.

The team of scientists from The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Canada studied a group of patients with hypersensitivity to radiation therapy, drawn from the largest world-wide database available – the European Union-funded Genetic pathways for the prediction of the effect of irradiation (GENEPI) study, which integrates biological material with patient data and treatment specifications. The database included information from more than 8000 European patients.

“Part of this project is the establishment of a sub-database in which very rare patient characteristics are brought together with the hypothesis that their genetic traits will enable the characterization of molecular pathways related to radio-sensitivity,” explained Professor de Ruysscher. “A major problem for radiation oncologists at present is that we are bound by the need to avoid damage to normal tissues. This means that the dose of radiation generally used is governed by the response of the most radiosensitive patients, and this may lead to many patients receiving lower than optimal doses, hence affecting the ability to deliver a higher dose that may result in better local tumor control.”

A tissue bank including skin fibroblasts (the structural framework of skin cells), whole blood, lymphocytes (white blood cells involved in the immune system), plasma, and lymphoblastic (immature lymphocyte) cell lines from patients who were known to be hypersensitive to radiation was established from patients in Europe and Canada.

When compared with a control group, also drawn from the GENEPI study, the hypersensitive patients showed either severe side effects occurring at very low radiation levels, or severe side effects lasting for more than four weeks after the end of radiotherapy and/or requiring surgery, or severe late side effects occurring or persisting more than 90 days after the end of radiotherapy.

The scientists identified 33 such patients, 10 males and 23 females, of whom 11 (two males and nine females) ultimately proved to be really hypersensitive to radiation, underlining the rarity of this condition. Their mean age was 61.6 ± 8.5 years (range 49 – 74). One patient had non-small cell lung cancer, six breast cancer, two head and neck cancer and one lymphoma. The radiation doses, the overall treatment times, and the follow-up times all fell within the usual parameters.

The mean radiation dose to the tumor was 45.3 ± 18.3 Gy (range 8 – 66), delivered in a mean of 21.5 ± 10.5 fractions (range 1 – 33), in a mean overall treatment time of 31.4 ± 17.6 days (range 1 – 57). The mean follow-up time after radiotherapy was 1658 ± 1048 days (range 84 – 3752).

“The severe side effects included acute skin reactions, extreme skin thickening or fibrosis, lung tissue inflammation and blindness due to optical nerve damage,” said Professor de Ruysscher. “Although radiotherapy is a highly effective way of treating cancer, it is important that we are able to identify the patients who will react badly to it and adjust their dosage accordingly.”

Radiotherapy works by causing DNA damage in cells in a particular area so that they destroy themselves. Because cancer cells reproduce more and are undifferentiated (lacking the ability to become a more specialized cell type), they are less able to repair the damage caused by radiotherapy than are differentiated, normal cells which can usually repair themselves. However, some of the normal cells surrounding the treatment site may also be damaged during radiotherapy, and it is this damage that leads to side effects.

Scientists already know that different types of tumors respond differently to radiotherapy; highly radiosensitive cancer cells such as leukemia can be killed by quite low radiation doses, whereas melanomas need such a high dose that it would be unsafe to use radiation therapy in this case. The finding that individuals, as well as tumors, react differently will enable doctors in the future to target doses even more carefully, taking into account not just the radiosensitivity of the tumor type but also the potential reaction of the particular patient to treatment.

“We hope that the EU will fund a successor project to elucidate genetic pathways in combination with other patient data so that we can make predictive models that can be implemented in standard clinical practice,” said Professor de Ruysscher. “We believe that, if we can understand what it is going on at a molecular level, we may be able to develop a blood test that will allow us to know precisely how an individual patient will react to radiotherapy, and to target the dose accordingly. Such personalized treatment will be a major advance, allowing us to minimize both radiotherapy doses and unpleasant side effects, while treating the tumor in the most effective way possible. Perhaps even more importantly, it will enable us to give higher doses to many patients and hence improve control of their tumors.”

For more information

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Study of New Treatment for Advanced Melanoma Shows Rapid Shrinking of Tumors

Researchers have made significant advances in the treatment of metastatic malignant melanoma – one of the most difficult cancers to treat successfully once it has started to spread – according to a study presented at Europe’s largest cancer congress, ECCO 15 – ESMO 34, the 15th congress of the European CanCer Organisation and the 34th congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology, in Berlin, Germany.

In the phase I extension study, researchers have seen rapid and dramatic shrinking of metastatic tumors in patients treated with a new compound that blocks the activity of the cancer-causing mutation of the BRAF gene, which is implicated in about 50% melanomas and 5% of colorectal cancers. In new results from 31 melanoma patients with the BRAF mutation who were treated with 960mg of PLX4032, twice a day, 64% (14) of the 22 patients who could be evaluated so far met the official criteria for partial response (this involves the diameter of tumors shrinking by at least 30% for at least a month). A further six of the 22 patients also showed a response, but, at the time of the congress presentation, it was too early to say whether the tumors’ would shrink far enough to meet these criteria.

Dr Paul Chapman, an attending physician on the Melanoma/Sarcoma service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (New York, USA) and who was one of the leaders of the trial, told a news briefing: “We are very excited about these results. Of the 22 patients we have been able to evaluate so far, 20 have had some objective tumor shrinkage. This is impressive as they all had metastatic disease and most of them had failed several prior therapies. A lot of these patients were pretty sick but many of them had a significant and rapid improvement in the way they function. We’ve had patients come off oxygen and we’ve got several patients who have been able to come off narcotic pain medication soon after starting treatment.”

The trial is investigating PLX4032, a novel, oral small molecule for the treatment of melanoma and other cancers harboring the V600E mutation of the BRAF kinase gene, in patients with the BRAF mutation, and results from the first 55 patients were reported at a cancer meeting earlier this year (ASCO 2009). These data had been aimed at finding the best dose of PLX4032 to give to patients. However, the phase I extension data reported at ECCO 15 – ESMO 34 focuses on a subsequent group of an additional 31 patients who were all treated at the maximum tolerated dose of the drug (a 960 mg pill twice a day). All the patients had the BRAF mutation.

Dr Chapman said: “What makes this treatment different from standard chemotherapy is that standard chemotherapy attacks the machinery involved in cell division; so to stop the cancer cells dividing uncontrollably, most standard chemotherapy aims to block the mechanism of division by interfering directly with DNA replication or with microtubules in the dividing cells. PLX4302 is different because it attacks the genetic program that is causing the cells to divide uncontrollably, and we think the BRAF mutation is driving that program. The drug is blocking the genetics of the tumor, rather than trying to interfere with the proliferation of the cells and, as a result, there are fewer side effects, although there are some. We are seeing some pretty dramatic and rapid responses, and they are occurring in sites where we rarely see responses to chemotherapy, such as in the bone.

“There are some important caveats. All these patients had failed previous therapies, either chemotherapy or treatment with Interleukin 2, as well as surgery. However, we know that only 10-30% of patients will respond to standard chemotherapy, so it’s not surprising that our patients had not responded, or have responded and then the cancer has recurred. In our study 64% of patients have had a partial response, but because we are only treating patients with the BRAF mutation, we are cutting out about 40% of melanoma patients who do not have this mutation and whom we know will not respond to this treatment. That is one reason why we are seeing a much higher response than with conventional treatments.

“Also, we don’t know yet how long these responses will last, and we have had patients whose cancer has progressed after initially responding; so we are putting a lot of effort in to studying the patients who do relapse, trying to understand how their tumors have become resistant.

“In addition, one of the main side effects we’ve seen is that some patients develop early, non-melanoma skin cancers such as squamous cell skin cancer. We are very vigilant about this and although they are very easy to cut out, it’s something we are keeping a close eye on.”

Dr Chapman and his colleagues are planning a phase II trial of 90 patients starting at the end of this year. In addition, a large phase III randomized controlled trial involving several hundred patients is planned to start either at the end of this year or beginning of next year involving centers in North America, Europe and Australia.

Dr Chapman said it was too early to be talking about a cure for advanced melanoma, but that this drug had potential. “Most of us think that a drug like this would ultimately be part of the regimen, but that we might need additional drugs with it to complete the cure. Right now we are seeing dramatic responses but it’s too early to say whether we’ve actually cured people because most patients still have evidence of some level of tumor on their skin. I think this is a huge step forward; whether or not it will be sufficient by itself really remains to be seen.”

Clinical trials to support a registration program for product approval are targeted to start shortly. Plexxikon Inc and Roche are co-developing PLX4032 under their 2006 license and collaboration agreement.

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Images courtesy American Society of Clinical oncology (ASCO).

Combined Program of Vaccination and Testing for the Human Papilloma Virus Could Eradicate Cervical Cancer

Cervical neoplasia is usually an asymptomatic squamous cell carcinoma caused by human papilloma virus infection (HPV); less often, it is an adenocarcinoma. The recognition that human papilloma virus (HPV) is a cause of cervical cancer has opened new opportunities for the prevention of the disease. Primary prevention is now possible via immunization with highly efficacious HPV vaccines and secondary prevention has gained impetus with the advent of sensitive HPV DNA testing to improve traditional Pap cytology screening programs.

As a result, cervical cancer could be eradicated within the next 50 years. However, according to a cervical cancer screening expert, this can only happen if governments implement national screening programs based on detection of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes the disease, together with vaccination programs against the virus.

Professor Jack Cuzick told Europe’s largest cancer congress, ECCO 15 – ESMO 34, (the joint multidisciplinary 15th congress of the European CanCer Organisation and the 34th congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology), meeting in Berlin, Germany (September 20 – 24, 2009) that while the current HPV vaccines protect against two cancer-causing strains of the HPV virus, soon there would be vaccines available that protect against nine types. If vaccination were to be combined with HPV screening (which is much more sensitive than the currently used Pap smear test), then eventually the cancer would disappear in those countries that had successfully implemented national programs. However, this would require political will and effort at both national and European level.

“It’s important to say up front that the HPV is responsible for all cervix cancer,” Cuzick said. “If you can eradicate the virus, the cancer will not appear. So the current vaccine holds the promise of eradicating about 70-75% of cervical cancers (caused by HPV types 16 and 18), and there appears to be some additional cross protection amongst types that are closely related to 16 or 18, in particular 31, 45 and a little bit of 33. There are new vaccines being planned that will vaccinate against nine types. If they are successful, there should be no need to screen women that have been vaccinated at all. That’s the long-term future: vaccination and no screening. After about 50 years, we could see cervical cancer disappearing.”

As the current HPV vaccine only protects against two of the cancer-causing types, vaccinated women will still require screening for the rest of their lives.

“Women vaccinated above the age of about 16 will need to be regularly screened for the rest of their life, because the vaccine is not effective in women who have already been exposed to the virus. Even for girls vaccinated before this age with the current vaccine, there will be a need for some screening to protect from cancers caused by HPV types not in the vaccine, so screening is here to stay for the foreseeable future. However, we need to change to screening for HPV rather than the Pap smear test, and then it will be possible for the tests to be conducted at longer intervals,” said Prof Cuzick, who is the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and head of department at the Cancer Research UK Centre for Epidemiology, Mathematics and Statistics, Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine (London, UK).

The Pap test uses cytology to detect pre-cancerous changes to cells; it relies on subjective assessments by people examining the cells in the smear with a microscope and so is open to human error. Prof Cuzick believes such errors will increase as the proportions of smears with affected cells decline due to increasing numbers of women having been vaccinated. In contrast, the HPV test is almost completely automated, is designed to detect the virus in the smear rather than relying on visual examination, and so is much less likely to be affected by human error.

Prof Cuzick said that countries should be switching to the HPV screening test now. “There’s overwhelming evidence that HPV screening is more effective than the Pap smear test, which misses about a third to a half of all high grade lesions. There are now several available commercial HPV tests and most of these tests show a sensitivity (the proportion of true positives correctly identified) in the order of 95% for high grade lesions, whereas cytology is somewhere between 50-70%. So it would really streamline the service because you could test less frequently, and it’s also been shown that the protection lasts longer so that screening every five to seven years is probably appropriate.”

However, he warned that the European Union and national governments should take the initiative in discussions on implementing screening and vaccination programs, rather than leaving it to pharmaceutical companies to lead the debate.

“The European Commission and Parliament, together with national governments, could be doing more to promote HPV testing. One of the most useful things the EU could do would be to provide a forum for the dissemination of knowledge about the role of HPV both to doctors and to the general public. It could sponsor a major symposium to discuss HPV testing, vaccination and the best strategies for implementing programs in member countries."

“There’s been a lot of concern, particularly with the vaccine, that dissemination of information about HPV has come mainly from the drug companies, and people are, not surprisingly, a little sceptical of pharmaceutical-based education programs. So if the EU was to take this up without pharmaceutical support, I think it would be very appropriate and it would provide a forum that would be extremely legitimate.”

Although current HPV tests are more expensive than cytology tests, Prof Cuzick said the price would go down as the volume of tests increased. In addition, the fact that it’s more accurate and women could be screened at longer intervals meant that switching to HPV testing could save governments money in the long term.

“For younger women we think HPV testing should happen every five years starting at age 25-30; by the time they’re 50, if they’ve been negative, they could probably be screened every eight years. So there’s a lot to be gained, both in terms of better protection and less frequent screening, which will save time and money. If women can go less often and get more protection it makes a lot of sense.”

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Researchers find Drug that Reverses Resistance to Chemotherapy in Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is a common malignancy that remains refractory to many available therapies. For many years, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) in combination with radiation therapy has been the only available treatment for patients with a resectable tumor. For patients whom the tumor had not metastasized but could not be surgically removed either, the combination of 5-FU and radiation therapy appeared to retard tumor growth and prolong survival.

Today, gemcitabine (Gemzar®, Eli Lilly and Company, USA) is the standard, first-line agent in advanced disease. The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a commonly expressed target in pancreatic cancer that is involved in tumor proliferation, metastasis, and induction of angiogenesis. The addition of the EGFR inhibitor erlotinib to gemcitabine has recently been demonstrated to provide a small, yet statistically significant, survival benefit in advanced disease. Ongoing studies are comparing gemcitabine as a single therapy and in combination with of 5-FU. Researchers are also exploring the benefit of gemcitabine in combination with other chemotherapeutic agents such as cisplatin, docetaxol (Taxotere®, Sanofi-Aventis, France), or irinotecan (Camptosar®, Pfizer, USA).

Now, for the first time researchers have shown that by inhibiting the action of an enzyme called TAK-1, it is possible to make pancreatic cancer cells sensitive to chemotherapy, opening the way for the development of a new drug to treat the disease.

Dr Davide Melisi told Europe’s largest cancer congress, ECCO 15 – ESMO 34, the combined the 15th congress of the European CanCer Organisation and the 34th congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology, in Berlin, Germany, that resistance to chemotherapy was the greatest challenge to treating pancreatic cancer.

“Pancreatic cancer is an incurable malignancy, resistant to every anti-cancer treatment. Targeting TAK-1 could be a strategy to revert this resistance, increasing the efficacy of chemotherapy,” Melisi said, who until the start of September was a Fellow at the M.D. Anderson Center in Houston (Texas, USA); he has now moved to a staff position at the National Cancer Institute in Naples (Italy). “During the past few years we have been studying the role played by a cytokine or regulatory protein called Transforming Growth Factor beta (TGFbeta) in the development of pancreatic cancer. Recently we focused our attention on a unique enzyme activated by TGFbeta, TAK-1, as a mediator for this extreme drug resistance.”

Melisi and his colleagues investigated the expression of TAK-1 (TGFbeta-Activated Kinase-1) in pancreatic cell lines and developed a drug that was capable of inhibiting TAK-1. They tested the activity of the TAK-1 inhibitor on its own and in combination with the anti-cancer drugs gemcitabine, oxaliplatin and SN-38 (a metabolite of the anti-cancer drug irinotecan) in cell lines, and the activity of the TAK-1 inhibitor combined with gemcitabine against pancreatic cancer in mice.

“The use of this TAK-1 inhibitor increased the sensitivity of pancreatic cells to all three chemotherapeutic drugs. By combining it with classic anti-cancer drugs, we were able to use doses of drugs up to 70 times lower in comparison with the control to kill the same number of cancer cells. In mice, we were able to reduce significantly the tumour volume, to prolong the mice survival, and to reduce the toxicity by combining the TAK-1 inhibitor with very low doses of a classic chemotherapeutic drug, gemcitabine, that would have been ineffective otherwise,” noted Melisi.

The use of gemcitabine on its own against the cancer in mice was ineffective because of the drug resistant nature of the disease. However, once it was combined with the TAK-1 inhibitor, Dr Melisi and his colleagues saw a 78% reduction in tumour volumes. “The median average survival for the control, TAK-1 inhibitor, gemcitabine on its own, or TAK-1 inhibitor combined with gemcitabine was 68, 87, 82 and 122 days respectively,” he explained.

This is the first time that TAK-1 has been indicated as a relevant target for the treatment of a solid tumor and that it is a valid approach to reverting the intrinsic drug resistance of pancreatic cancer. The TAK-1 inhibitor used in this study is an exciting drug that warrants further development for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. In the near future, we will study whether it is also able to make other chemotherapeutic agents, such as oxaliplatin, 5-FU or irinotecan, work against pancreatic cancer in mice."

“Our main goal is to translate this combination approach from the bench to the bedside, conducting a clinical trial that could demonstrate the safety of this TAK-1 inhibitor in combination with gemcitabine, and its efficacy, in pancreatic cancer patients,” Melisi told his audience.

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  • Abstract no: 1002, Basic science/translational research session, Thursday 09.00 hrs CEST (Hall 14.2)

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Bevacizumab Data Gives Hope to Colorectal Cancer Patients with Liver Metastases

New data from several studies presented at the joint multidisciplinary meeting of ECCO 15 (European CanCer Organisation) and ESMO 34 (European Society for Medical Oncology) in Berlin, Germany, confirm unique benefits of bevacizumab (Avastin®, Roche, Basel, Switzerland), an antibody that specifically binds and blocks VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor), and capecitabine (Xeloda®, Roche, Basel, Swizerland), a highly effective targeted oral chemotherapy offering patients a survival advantage when taken on its own or in combination with other anticancer drugs, in treatment of colon cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer across all tumor types in Europe and is the third most commonly reported cancer in the world.

Bevacizumab in combination with chemotherapy led to shrinkage or disappearance (overall response rate) of liver metastases (disease that has spread to the liver) in 78% of patients with advanced colorectal cancer. As a result, one third (33%) of patients who were initially unable to undergo surgery were eligible to undergo a potentially lifesaving surgery. Complete surgical removal of the metastases was achieved in 56% of all bevacizumab-treated patients.

II BOXER study
The multicentre phase II BOXER study, a single arm phase II study, investigated the efficacy and safety of bevacizumab in combination with oral capecitabine and intravenous oxaliplatin (NO16968 XELOX trial, an open-label, randomised, phase III study of oral capecitabine in combination with intravenous oxaliplatin versus 5-fluorouracil/leucovorin (5-FU/LV) as adjuvant therapy for patients with stage III colon cancer who have undergone surgery) in patients considered unsuitable for upfront resection (surgical removal) of their liver metastases.

Response rates in this trial were measured by RECIST criteria. Secondary objectives of BOXER trial included complete resection rate, safety and feasibility of the regimen, PFS and overall survival.

“The data from BOXER shows that bevacizumab in combination with standard chemotherapy has the ability to shrink metastatic lesions which might allow surgical removal and therefore offer a potential for cure for patients with advanced disease,” explained Professor David Cunningham, Head of the Gastrointestinal Unit at the Royal Marsden Hospital, UK.

First BEAT
Data from the large, observational First BEAT phase IV trial assessing the safety and efficacy of bevacizumab in almost 2,000 previously untreated patients with mCRC in combination with a variety of standard chemotherapies, showed that bevacizumab -based treatment delivers the same benefits to all patients including those aged above 65 years who represent the majority of people with advanced colorectal cancer. This is an important finding as older patients are often under-represented in clinical trials. The study results showed that the time patients lived without their disease advancing (PFS) was similar across age groups – 10.8 months for those below 65 years, 11.2 months for those between 65 and 74 years and 10 months for those 75 years and older.

The most common chemotherapy regimens combined with bevacizumab in First BEAT were FOLFOX, XELOX, FOLFIRI (oxaliplatin, fluorouracil and irinotecan) and capecitabine. The primary endpoint of First BEAT was safety and secondary objectives were PFS and overall survival.

NO16968 (XELOXA) study
Patients taking capecitabine with oxaliplatin immediately after surgery live disease free for longer compared to those treated with commonly used chemotherapy regimen. New results for capecitabine in early colon cancer were also presented at the ECCO 15 - ESMO 34 meeting. The pivotal NO16968 (XELOXA) study, the largest-ever study of patients with stage III colon cancer, showed that the three year disease-free survival (DFS) for patients receiving XELOX was 70.9%, superior to the 5-FU/LV arm (66.5%) (HR=0.80 (95% CI: 0.69-0.93), p=0.0045). The DFS result obtained with XELOX is similar to that shown in trials evaluating the use of FOLFOX in patients with stage III colon cancer.

"We know that XELOX helps keep patients free from recurrence of their cancer longer,’’ said Dr Dan Haller, Professor of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. "These results now confirm that patients have an additional option for the treatment of stage III colon cancer. In these potentially curable patients, XELOX offers the additional benefit of an oral medication, Xeloda."

"Colorectal cancer sadly claims more than 600,000 lives each year, despite the treatment advances made in the last decade” said William M. Burns, CEO of Roche’s Pharmaceuticals. “Today’s announcements about Avastin and Xeloda are therefore very welcome news for patients and their families as they offer more options for fighting this disease and hope that some patients may even have the potential to be cured” he added.

Images courtesy American Society of Clinical oncology (ASCO) and Roche Pharmaceuticals.

Overweight and Obesity Causes over 124,000 New Cancers a Year in Europe

According to estimates from a new modeling study, at least 124,000 new cancers in 2008 in Europe may have been caused by excess body weight. The proportion of cases of new cancers attributable to a body mass index of 25kg/m2 or more were highest among women and in central European countries such as the Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

The lead author of a study called ‘Incident cancer burden attributable to excess body mass index in 30 European countries’, published in the International Journal of Cancer, Dr Andrew Renehan, told oncologists and other medical professionals gather together in Berlin, Germany during the combined 15th congress of the European CanCer Organisation and the 34th congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology: “As more people stop smoking and fewer women take hormone replacement therapy, it is possible that obesity may become the biggest attributable cause of cancer in women within the next decade.”

Dr Renehan, who is a senior lecturer in cancer studies and surgery at the University of Manchester (UK), and his colleagues in the UK, The Netherlands and Switzerland, created a sophisticated model to estimate the proportion of cancers that could be attributed to excess body weight in 30 European countries. Using data from a number of sources including the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, they estimated that in 2002 (the most recent year for which there are reliable statistics on cancer incidence in Europe) there had been over 70,000 new cases of cancer attributable to excess BMI out of a total of nearly 2.2 million new diagnoses across the 30 European countries.

The percentage of obesity-related cancers varied widely between countries, from 2.1% in women and 2.4% in men in Denmark, to 8.2% in women and 3.5% in men in the Czech Republic. In Germany it was 4.8% in women and 3.3% in men, and in the UK it was 4% in women and 3.4% in men.

Then, the researchers projected the figures forward to 2008, taking into account what was known about shifts in the distribution of BMI, the dramatic decline in women’s use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) from 2002 onwards following research that showed it increased the risk of breast cancer, and the wider use of PSA screening for prostate cancer in men.

They found that the number of cancers that could be attributed to excess body weight increased to 124,050 in 2008. In men, 3.2% of new cancers could be attributed to being overweight or obese and in women it was 8.6%. The largest number of obesity-related new cancers was for endometrial cancer (33,421), post-menopausal breast cancer (27,770) and colorectal cancer (23,730). These three accounted for 65% of all cancers attributable to excess BMI.

“I must emphasize that we are trying not to be sensationalist about this,” said Dr Renehan. “These are very conservative estimates, and it’s quite likely that the numbers are, in fact, higher.”

The number of new cases of obesity-related esophageal cancer was particularly high in the UK relative to the rest of Europe. “This country accounts for 54% of new cases across all 30 countries,” said Dr Renehan. “This may be due to synergistic interactions between smoking, alcohol, excess body weight and acid reflux – and is currently an area where research is required.”

Until 2002 when HRT use dropped dramatically following the results of the Women’s Health Initiative Trial (USA) that showed an increased risk of breast cancer in women taking HRT, Dr Renehan said that HRT masked and diluted the effects of obesity on the incidence of breast cancer. “In women who used HRT it wasn’t clear what proportions of breast cancers were caused by HRT or by obesity. In women who don’t take HRT, the effect of obesity was much clearer. Now that far fewer women are using HRT, it is much easier to see the effect of obesity on the incidence of breast cancer, and also on endometrial cancer. Consequently, the proportions of these cancers attributable to obesity have increased.”

Dr Renehan said that although European countries were taking steps to tackle the obesity epidemic, this study underlined the urgency of the task and the scale of the problems caused by increasingly overweight populations.

“The overall size of the burden of increasing cancer incidence should inform health policy. For example, it is clear that, in both relative and absolute terms, obesity-related cancer is a greater problem for women than for men. At a country level, it is a greater problem for central European countries like the Czech Republic, whereas it is less of a problem in France and Denmark. Similarly, obesity-related esophageal cancer seems to be a substantial and unique problem in the UK.

“The study also identifies priorities for research into certain cancers, namely endometrial, breast and colorectal cancers. In the face of an unabating obesity epidemic, and apparent failure of public health policies to control weight gain, there is a need to look at alternative strategies, including pharmacological approaches.”

Dr Renehan’s own research is trying to relate these epidemiological findings back to the biological mechanisms that are at work. His research uses the observed interactions between excess BMI and cancer risk to guide questions in the laboratory.

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  • ECCO15 – ESMO 34 Abstract no: 327, Oncopolicy session: Drug and lifestyle mediated prevention initiatives in Europe. Thursday 11.15-12.15 hrs CEST (Hall 3)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Everolimus (Afinitor®) Licensed in UK for Advanced Kidney Cancer Patients After Failure of First Line Vascular Targeted Therapy

Everolimus (Afinitor®, Novartis AG, Basel, Switzerland) has recently been licensed in the United Kingdom for the treatment of advanced kidney cancer after failure of treatments which prevent the growth of the tumor’s blood vessels, which is essential for the cancer to survive. The European Commission (EC) approved everolimus for this use on 3rd August 2009 for patients with advanced kidney cancer whose disease progressed on or after treatment with VEGF-targeted therapy.

Everolimus belongs to a class of drugs called kinase inhibitors, which interfere with cell communication, preventing tumor growth. The drug is intended for those patients with advanced renal cell cancer who have already tried another kinase inhibitor, sunitinib (Sutent, Pfizer Inc., New York, USA) or sorafenib (Nexavar, Bayer HealthCare AG, Leverkusen, Germany).

Mechanism of Action
While sunitinib and sorafenib are multiple kinase inhibitors (acting on a number of cellular targets), everolimus works by blocking a specific protein known as the mammalian target of rapamycin or mTOR, a protein that acts as a central regulator of tumor cell division, blood vessel growth and cell metabolism.

A clinical trial studying the safety and effectiveness of everolimus was discontinued after an interim analysis showed that, in patients receiving the drug, the growth or spread of the tumor was delayed when compared to patients who did not receive the drug. In addition, disease progression was delayed approximately five months in half of the patients who received everolimus. In contrast, disease progression was delayed two months in patients who did not receive the drug.

The most frequent adverse reactions in the trial (occurring in at least 20 percent of patients) included inflammation in the mouth, loss of strength, diarrhea, poor appetite, fluid buildup in the extremities, shortness of breath, coughing, nausea, vomiting, rash, and fever. Laboratory tests of blood samples determined that at least half of all patients experienced anemia, low white blood counts, high cholesterol and high triglycerides and high blood sugar.

Patients with advanced renal cell cancer have limited options once tumors progress after first line standard therapy. Now, phase III trials show that everolimus more than doubles the median time without tumor growth and reduces the risk of disease worsening or death by 67% compared with placebo.

Prior to this date, there were no licensed treatment options in the United Kingdom for advanced renal cell carcinoma patients whose cancer progressed while on or after treatment with these targeted therapies.

Advanced renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer, accounts for approximately 2% of all new cancers. In the UK, the incidence of kidney cancer is increasing, due in part to obesity and smoking.

Renal cell cancer originates in the lining of the small tubules in the kidney that filter waste products from the blood. The cancer is resistant to such standard treatments as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, and the initial treatment for most patients is surgical removal of the kidney. If the cancer is confined to the kidney, the five-year survival rate is 60 to 70 percent. However, if left untreated, the tumor can spread to neighboring lymph nodes and eventually to other organs, considerably reducing the survival rate.

"I am delighted that there is now a proven treatment option available to people living with advanced kidney cancer in the UK, who have progressed after treatment with a targeted therapy. The availability of Afinitor is an important step in ensuring this population of poor prognosis patients have the potential to control their disease even further," said Tim Eisen, Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Cambridge.

Expert consensus opinion, recently published in a review article in the British Journal of Hospital Medicine, has been updated to recommend everolimus as a Second-Line Therapy treatment option for advanced kidney cancer therapy after progression on targeted therapies.

Data that led to the European approval show that everolimus, when compared with placebo, more than doubled the median time without tumor growth or death in patients with advanced kidney cancer whose disease progressed following prior vascular targeted therapy (4.9 vs. 1.9 months). The data showed the reduction of the risk of disease progression or death by 67% based on the primary endpoint of progression-free survival (PFS) (hazard ratio=0.33 with 95% confidence interval 0.25 to 0.43; P<0.001.>

Every year there are 7,000 newly diagnosed cases of kidney cancer which also causes around 3,700 deaths a year," said Pat Hanlon, Kidney Cancer UK. "While many of these cancer patients will be diagnosed early and undergo surgery to cure them, 40% of patients will be diagnosed in the advanced stages when prognosis is extremely poor and the cancer is notoriously difficult to treat."

James Whale, Founder of The James Whale Fund for Kidney Cancer, adds: "We at the Fund are pleased everolimus has been granted a license in the UK as, given the poor prognosis of kidney cancer, it is critical for people living with the disease to have access to life-extending treatments. This has been proven to provide benefit to kidney cancer patients, enabling them to spend precious time with family and friends."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved everolimus oral tablets for the treatment of patients with advanced kidney cancer whose disease has progressed after treatment with other cancer therapies in March 2009. Following the approval in the US National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) updated the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology™ for Kidney Cancer to reflect th eFDA approval of everolimus.

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Trastuzumab plus Standard Chemotherapy Provides Unprecedented Survival Benefit for Patients with HER2-positive Advanced Gastric Cancer

A detailed analysis of the Phase III ToGA study, the first randomized Phase III clinical trial investigating the use of trastuzumab (Herceptin) in patients with inoperable locally advanced, recurrent and/or metastatic HER2-positive gastric cancer, revealed an unprecedented survival benefit for patients when trastuzumab, a humanized antibody designed to target and block the function of HER2, was added to standard chemotherapy regimen containing capecitabine (Xeloda) or intravenous 5-FU and cisplatin.

The analysis evaluated patient benefit according to the level of HER2 identified in their stomach tumour. Overall survival for patients with high levels of HER2 receiving Herceptin was 16 months on average versus 11.8 months for patients receiving chemotherapy alone.

These results were presented at the joint 15th Congress of the European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) and 34th Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) in Berlin, Germany. They illustrate the importance of an individualized approach to patient care and the opportunity that a targeted medicine may offer.

The rationale for conducting this trial was based on the knowledge that the targeted therapy trastuzumab has demonstrated unprecedented efficacy in the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer. In addition, the overexpression of HER2 was also observed in stomach cancer.

In the ToGA study, patients were randomized to receive one of the following regimens as their first line of treatment:
  • A fluoropyrimidine (capecitabine or intravenous 5-FU) and cisplatin every 3 weeks for 6 cycles. Most patients were receiving Xeloda and cisplatin as chemotherapy
  • Trastuzumab 6mg/kg every 3 weeks until disease progression in combination with a fluoropyrimidine and cisplatin which was stopped after a maximum of for 6 cycles

The primary objective of the study was to demonstrate superiority in overall survival of the trastuzumab containing treatment arm compared to the chemotherapy alone arm. The pre-planned interim analysis was triggered by the occurrence of 347 events. Secondary endpoints for the study included progression-free survival, overall response rate, duration of response, safety and quality of life. In the ToGA study, no new or unexpected side effects were observed.

For overall survival, the Hazard Ratio was 0.74 (CI 0.60, 0.91) with a highly significant p-value of p=0.0046 corresponding to a 26% reduction in the risk of death. All patients who were included the study to receive trastuzumab had a median overall survival increase by 2.7 months to 13.8 months. The response rate was increased with trastuzumab from 34.5 % to 47.3%. Patients with tumors exhibiting higher levels of HER2 experienced even greater benefit from the addition of trastuzumab.

“It is now clearly proven that Herceptin prolongs the lives of patients suffering from HER2-positive gastric cancer. As an investigator on this study and a treating physician, it is very rewarding to see a new effective treatment option emerging”, said principle investigator, Professor Eric Van Cutsem, University Hospital Gasthuisberg, Leuven, Belgium. “The results of the ToGA study reinforce the need for early and accurate HER2 testing of all advanced gastric cancer patients.”

Based on the significant findings of the ToGA study, Roche has submitted a label extension application with the EU Health Authorities for use of trastuzumab in HER2-positive advanced gastric cancer. Applications for label extension in other regions of the world will follow as soon as possible.

We are pleased to see the impressive benefit that the targeted therapy Herceptin provides for patients with HER2-positive stomach cancer. That this benefit is even greater in patients with higher levels of HER2demonstrates the significant advances through personalized medicine”, commented William M. Burns, CEO of Roche’s Pharmaceuticals Division, “Herceptin will become the new standard of care and will make an important contribution to helping these patients.”

Stomach cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide with over 1,000,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Stomach cancer is associated with poor prognosis and early diagnosis is challenging because most patients do not show symptoms until the later stages. Around 16% of stomach tumors express high levels of HER2 (IHC 3+ or IHC2+/FISH+).