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The Lancet Oncology

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Approval of Nilotinib Gives Patients With Newly Diagnosed Ph+ Chronic Myeloid Leukemia New Medical Option

The European Commission has approved nilotinib (Tasigna®, Novartis) as a treatment for adult patients with newly diagnosed Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia (Ph+ CML) in chronic phase.

Nilotinib is indicated for the treatment of adult patients with newly diagnosed Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) in the chronic phase. The new agent has also been approved in over 90 countries for the treatment of chronic phase and accelerated phase Ph+ CML in adult patients resistant or intolerant to at least one prior therapy, including imatinib (Glivec®; known as Gleevec® in the USA, Canada and Israel)[8]. The effectiveness of nilotinib for this indication is based on confirmed hematologic and unconfirmed cytogenetic response rates. There are no controlled trials demonstrating a clinical benefit, such as improvement in disease-related symptoms or increased survival.

The approval from the European Commission followed a positive opinion from the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP). It is based on findings from a pivotal Phase III trial demonstrating superiority to the standard of care imatinib in achieving molecular and cytogenetic response and delaying cancer progression. These data were first published in the June 17 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine [1] and were confirmed by 18-month median follow-up data presented at the 46th American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting held in June 2010 [2].

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Swissmedic and Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare have also approved nilotinib in this first-line indication. Regulatory submissions are under review in other countries worldwide.

"We are pleased that Tasigna is now approved for newly diagnosed Ph+ CML patients in chronic phase in the member states of the European Union," said Hervé Hoppenot, President, Novartis Oncology. "With this expanded indication, newly diagnosed patients can benefit from a Bcr-Abl tyrosine kinase inhibitor that, according to pivotal data, surpassed the standard of care Glivec, in key measures of efficacy, including delaying disease progression at 12 months."

In laboratory studies, nilotinib has been shown to be a potent and selective inhibitor of the Bcr-Abl protein that causes production of cancer cells in Ph+ CML,[3]. It has also been shown to be active against a broad spectrum of Bcr-Abl mutations associated with resistance to imatinib [4].

In its pivotal head-to-head trial, nilotinib surpassed imatinib in key measures of treatment efficacy, as has been reported. nilotinib eliminated Bcr-Abl faster and more deeply than imatinib and resulted in lower rates of cancer progression after 12 months of therapy[1]. Major molecular response (MMR), a measure of deep reduction in Bcr-Abl, is considered to be a critical therapeutic milestone associated with good long-term outcomes for patients with Ph+ CML in chronic phase[5]-[7]. Treatment with nilotinib led to higher rates of both MMR and complete cytogenetic response (CCyR) (undetectable levels of the Philadelphia chromosome that is the hallmark of this cancer) compared with imatinib [1].

After a median of 18 months of follow-up treatment, two patients on the nilotinib 300 mg twice daily arm progressed to either accelerated phase or blast crisis while 17 patients on the imatinib arm progressed to either accelerated phase or blast crisis. In the study, nilotinib and imatinib were generally well tolerated. Fewer patients discontinued due to adverse events from the nilotinib 300 mg twice daily arm of the study compared to the imatinib 400 mg once daily arm.

The randomized, open-label, multicenter trial, called ENESTnd (Evaluating Nilotinib Efficacy and Safety in Clinical Trials of Newly Diagnosed Ph+ CML Patients), compared the efficacy and safety of nilotinib versus imatinib in adult patients with newly diagnosed Ph+ CML in chronic phase[1]. It is the largest global randomized comparison of two oral therapies ever conducted in newly diagnosed Ph+ CML patients in chronic phase.

This year, Novartis also began collaboration with molecular diagnostics company Cepheid to develop a new FDA cleared/approved Bcr-Abl test, which adheres to the International Scale. The goal of the collaboration is to help doctors more reliably monitor Ph+ CML patients. Cepheid and Novartis also will develop a next generation test, which is expected to enable even more sensitive testing, indicating the depth of a patient's response to tyrosine kinase inhibitors, including nilotinib and imatinib. Currently, there are no FDA cleared/approved tests to monitor for Bcr-Abl.

Earlier this month nilotinib was also approved by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to offer as a treatment for adult patients with newly diagnosed Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia (Ph+ CML) in chronic phase.

[1] Saglio G, Kim D-W, Surapol Issaragrisil S, et al. Nilotinib versus imatinib for newly diagnosed chronic myeloid leukemia. N Engl J Med. 2010 Jun 17;362(24):2251-9.
[2] Larson R, Philipp le Coutre, Reiffers J, Hughes T. et al. Nilotinib is Superior to Imatinib in Patients (pts) with Newly Diagnosed Chronic Myeloid Leukemia in Chronic Phase (CML-CP): ENESTnd Beyond One Year. Abstract # CRA6501. American Society of Clinical Oncology 2010 Annual Meeting
[3] le Coutre P, Ottmann OG, Giles F, et al. Nilotinib (formerly AMN107), a highly selective BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase inhibitor, is active in patients with imatinib-resistant or-intolerant accelerated-phase chronic myelogenous leukemia. Blood. 2008 Feb 15;111(4):1834-9.
[4] Swords R, Mahalingam D, Padmanabhan S, et al. Nilotinib: optimal therapy for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia and resistance or intolerance to imatinib. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2009 Sep 21;3:89-101
[5] Hochhaus A, O'Brien SG, Guilhot F,et al. IRIS Investigators. Six-year follow-up of patients receiving imatinib for the first-line treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia. Leukemia. 2009 Jun;23(6):1054-61.
[6] Müller MC, Hanfstein B, Erben P, et al. Molecular response to first line imatinib therapy is predictive for long term event free survival in patients with chronic phase chronic myelogenous leukemia - an interim analysis of the randomized German CML Study IV. Blood (ASH Annual Meeting Abstracts) 2008, 112: Abstract 333.
[7] Baccarani M, Cortes J, Pane F, et al. Chronic myeloid leukemia: an update of concepts and management recommendations of European LeukemiaNet. J Clin Oncol. 2009 Dec 10;27(35):6041-51.
[8] Glivec® (imatinib) prescribing information. Basel, Switzerland: Novartis International AG; March 2009

For more information:
[9] Summary of Product Characteristics (Nilotinib, Tasigna®)
[10] EPAR Summary for the Public.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

News Study Shows: Annual Breast Cancer Screening Beginning at Age 40 Reduces Mastectomy Risk

Having a yearly mammogram greatly reduces the risk of mastectomy following breast cancer in women between the ages of 40 and 50, according to a study being presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (November 28 - December 3, 2010, McCormick Place, Chicago).

"The results of this study support the importance of regular screening in the 40 to 50 age group," said lead author Nicholas M. Perry, M.B.B.S., F.R.C.S., F.R.C.R., director of The London Breast Institute at The Princess Grace Hospital in London. "Women in this age group who had undergone mammography the previous year had a mastectomy rate of less than half that of the others."

An estimated 207,090 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women in 2010. Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends annual mammography screening for women beginning at age 40 in the U.S., but last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended changing the guidelines to begin screening biennially (every other year) at age 50. There are no routine screening guidelines for women under 50 in the U.K.

The researchers studied the benefits of screening women between the ages of 40 and 50, the frequency of mammography and the type of treatment after breast cancer diagnosis.

Dr. Perry and colleagues reviewed the clinical data available on women from 40 to 50 that had been diagnosed with breast cancer and treated at The London Breast Institute. Between 2003 and 2009, 971 women had been diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time of diagnosis, 393 (40%) of the women were under 50, with 156 of these women completing treatment at the center. Of the treated women, 114 (73%) had no prior mammograms. Forty-two women had been previously screened with mammography, of whom 29 had at least one mammogram within the previous two years. Of those, 16 women had a mammogram one year prior.

"We reviewed the records of the women needing mastectomy to determine whether or not they had undergone mammography the previous year," Dr. Perry said. "We were surprised at the degree of benefit obtained from yearly screening in this age group."

Data showed that mastectomy was the required treatment for 3 (19%) of the 16 women who had been screened the prior year, compared to 64 (46%) of the 140 women who had not been screened in the past year.

"Regular screening is already proven to lower the chance of women dying from breast cancer," Dr. Perry said. "The results of our study support the importance of regular screening in the under-50 age group and confirm that annual mammography improves the chances of breast conservation should breast cancer develop."

Dr. Perry's coauthors for this article are Sue Milner, B.Sc., D.C.R., Kefah Mokbel, M.B.B.S., M.S., F.R.C.S., Stephen W. Duffy, B.Sc., M.Sc., and Katja Pinker, M.D.

For more information
Prior Mammography in Women Aged 40-50 at a UK Center in Accordance with ACS Guidelines Lowers Mastectomy Rate Following Breast Cancer (Abstract)

This article was first published online at Onco'Zine - The International Cancer Network

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Personalized Cancer Therapy Requires New Strategies for Cancer Drug Development

Millions of cancer patients worldwide may soon be able to receive more effective, personalized treatments for their disease thanks to developments in the understanding of cancer biology, experts will say at the Cancer Biology for Clinicians Symposium organized by the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) in Nice, France on 26-27 November.

To make the most of this coming transformation, governments, pharmaceutical companies and doctors urgently need to adapt the way drugs are developed, the experts say.

"Cancer therapy is arguably at the most exciting time in its history," said José Baselga, from MGH Cancer Center in Boston, USA, co-chair of the symposium and ESMO Past-President. "It is at the confluence of two new movements, one toward personalized medicine and the other toward the use of new molecularly targeted cancer therapeutics that exploit the tumor's genetic and molecular signature. These movements provide many challenges, but also the opportunity for making paradigm shifts in the way we think of and treat cancer."

Personalized treatment has become increasingly available for cancers over the past decade. This has partly come about as scientists have found that common tumors such as breast cancer are in fact a mixture of several disease types with distinct molecular features. Meanwhile, molecular targeted drugs have also been developed that inhibit particular molecular targets involved in some cancers.

"As our understanding of cancer biology develops further, these kinds of personalized treatments are expected to become available for many more cancer types," said Fabrice André, from Institut Gustave Roussy, France, ESMO spokesperson co-chairing a session at the symposium. "If we want to facilitate the implementation of this kind of personalized medicine, then we urgently need to develop new strategies for cancer drug development."

In particular, it is time to rethink whether the standard model of testing drugs in large phase-III trials is an effective way to bring these targeted cancer drugs to patients, Dr André noted.

"Regulatory processes are becoming increasingly restrictive in providing patient access to potentially innovative new drugs, because even the largest cancer trials generally involve only a small portion of the cancer patient population, and because the drug development process is often more than a decade from the first preclinical study," he added.

This is related to the fact that drug approval usually needs large confirmatory trials that are being done in an unselected population. There is a need for smaller trials done with selected patients to be highly sensitive, a concept that requires the development of molecular selection and relative platforms for doing that.

"It’s clear that we urgently need a new paradigm for drug development, including targeted patient selection for clinical trials, shorter duration of clinical trials and improvement of the cost effectiveness of bringing a new drug to the market."

The ESMO Cancer Biology for Clinicians Symposium, a two-day meeting featuring some of the most eminent researchers in the field, is designed to inform oncologists about the ways cancer biology is changing clinical practice.

"What is most exciting today is the active dialogue between clinicians and laboratory scientists who share an interest in applying the new knowledge of cancer biology to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the disease," said meeting co-chair Mario Dicato, from Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg.

"In the near future, cancer treatment decisions will be based on biology," said the third meeting co-chair Jean-Charles Soria, ESMO spokesperson from Institut Gustave Roussy, France. "It is therefore vital that medical oncologists have the skills and the knowledge to bring these advances to their patients. The future of oncology will be personalized medicine, and the community needs to discuss how this will be implemented."

The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) is the leading European professional organization committed to advancing the specialty of medical oncology and promoting a multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment and care. The organization is a powerful alliance of more than 6,000 committed oncology professionals from over 100 countries.

For more information:
Cancer Biology for Clinicians Symposium Program Book

This article was first published online at Onco'Zine - The International Cancer Network

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Caution Regarding Use Of Erythropoiesis-Stimulating Agents In Cancer Patients Recommended In New Guideline

An updated joint guideline by the American Society of Hematology (ASH), the world’s largest professional society concerned with the causes and treatment of blood disorders, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) advises physicians about the appropriate use of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), a class of drugs that stimulate the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells, to treat cancer patients with chemotherapy-induced anemia.

While the guideline cautions that ESAs are associated with shorter survival and increased risk of thromboembolism — blood clots — tumor progression and stroke, it also recognizes their major benefit of reducing the need for red blood cell transfusions, which can potentially cause serious infections and adverse reactions in the immune system.

“This updated guideline offers clinicians the latest synthesis of the medical evidence surrounding use of ESAs in patients with cancer, including appropriate cautions where evidence is lacking or where risks may outweigh the use of ESAs,” said J. Douglas Rizzo, MD, MS, Co-Chair of the guideline panel and Professor of Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Those risks may include thromboembolism or even death, according to new data cited in the guideline, which suggests that physicians avoid the use of ESAs in cancer patients who are not receiving chemotherapy, except for those with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). At the same time, the guideline confirms the effectiveness of ESAs in sparing patients the need for transfusions, which can substantially impact Quality of Life. By recommending that physicians discuss individual risks and benefits of ESAs and blood transfusion with patients prior to therapy, the guideline recognizes the critical role of shared decision-making between the patient and the physician.

In addition to outlining the clotting risks of ESAs, the guideline makes specific recommendations on usage and provides insights into disease progression and patient survival. The guideline also details new thresholds for initiation and modification of ESAs, which are consistent with current US FDA labeling.

Originally published in 2002 and last updated in 2007, the guideline was derived from analysis of individual patient data, various medical literature, and systematic reviews of published clinical trials. In developing the update, panel members considered all relevant literature published between January 2007 and January 2010. Additional evidence was considered when it was considered pertinent to each section of the updated guideline.

“These guidelines touch on almost all aspects of the use of ESAs in patients with cancer and MDS, as well as secondary issues, such as the role of iron supplementation,” said Samuel Silver, MD, a member of ASH’s Committee on Practice and Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan. “These are issues that confront practicing hematologists and oncologists on a daily basis, and we hope that these evidence-based recommendations will influence practice standards and result in better care for patients.”

For more information:
Rizzo JD, Brouwers M, Hurley P, Seidenfeld J, Arcasoy MO, Spivak JL, Bennett CL, Bohlius J, Evanchuk D, Goode MJ, Jakubowski AA, Regan DH, Somerfield MR. American Society of Clinical Oncology/American Society of Hematology Clinical Practice Guideline Update on the Use of Epoetin and Darbepoetin in Adult Patients With CancerJ Clin Oncol. 2010 Nov 20;28(33):4996-5010. Epub 2010 Oct 25.

This article was first published online at Onco'Zine - The International Cancer Network

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Original Research, Better Insight And Practice-changing Studies Attract Record Number Of Oncologists To Attend ESMO 2010

“The 35th ESMO Congress is milestone in our Society’s history. It has been, not only our biggest, but also our best congress ever,” declared ESMO President David J. Kerr at the event’s closing conference today. 16,000 delegates attended the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) congress in Milan this week, including over 13,000 medical oncologists, 380 members of the press and close to 400 patients who participated in a dedicated seminar.

“We believe this success is due to the excellent program that the ESMO Scientific Committee put together this year, including a large amount of original research,” said Prof Kerr.

Prof Fortunato Ciardiello highlighted as one of the most important clinical studies reported here the results of a large randomized Phase-III trial in prostate cancer patients who had previously failed hormone and chemotherapy. The study was presented by researcher Johann de Bono. “These findings will change daily practice in the treatment of prostate cancer, in particular because they offer a novel and well-tolerated hormone therapy to patients for which no other treatment options were available. They contribute to a new era in drugs for prostate cancer,” said Prof Ciardiello.

Other practice-changing trials presented at the 35th ESMO Congress include a Chinese study that brings new hope to lung cancer patients (OPTIMAL trial). Lung cancer is the most common and deadliest cancer, but advances presented by Prof Caicun Zhou tripled the time people lived without the disease getting worse. An encouraging trial for ovarian cancer patients (ICON 7) presented by DrTim Perren from the UK, also attracted a lot of attention. In the field of advanced breast cancer, an American study (TDM4450g) that presented a new type of medicine with much lower toxicity compared to the older 'standard' drew a lot of interest. Principal investigator, Dr Edith Perez said the compound had shown to be effective in patients whose metastatic breast cancer had not responded to other treatments.

Prof Kerr said that what has become clear “is that we need to get back to our laboratories to understand more about the disease. We need more biology and a better insight so that we can treat the right patient, at the right time, with the right drug at the right dose.

More Information:
Visit Onco'Zine The International Cancer Network for an overview of the daily news from ESMO 2010 conference.

Friday, October 8, 2010

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dutch Diagnostic Company to Play Pivotal Role in ISPY-2 Trial for Breast Cancer

Agendia, a Netherlands genomics cancer diagnostics company and a world leader in molecular cancer diagnostics focused on the personalized treatment of breach cancer patients, will play a major role in the I-SPY 2 TRIAL for breast cancer. The trial is set to launch at the first of nearly twenty research sites.

I-SPY 2 is an exciting and groundbreaking new clinical trial model that will help scientists quickly and efficiently test the most promising drugs in development for women with higher risk, rapidly growing breast cancers-women for whom an improvement over standard treatment could dramatically change the odds of survival. I-SPY is an initiative of The Biomarkers Consortium, a unique public-private partnership that includes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and major pharmaceutical companies, led by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH).

"Cancer tumor profiling in the neoadjuvant setting is critical to the success of the I-SPY 2 trial. Agendia is uniquely positioned to be a part of the Biomarker Consortium in this landmark study, and proud to be working side by side with a large number of visionary therapeutic companies and research centers," said Bernhard Sixt, Chief Executive Officer of Agendia. "Agendia's MammaPrint has proven value for breast cancer recurrence in the neoadjuvant and adjuvant settings, Agendia's TargetPrint provides objective, quantitative information about the expression of ER, PR and Her-2neu, while our DiscoverPrint measures the expression of the whole genome. In concert they will form an integral part of the clinically relevant discoveries the Consortium aims to make."

MammaPrint, the first and only highly accurate breast cancer recurrence test cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under the in vitro diagnostic multivariate index assay (IVDMIA) guidelines, identifies patients with early metastasis risk - patients who are likely to develop metastases within five years following surgery. Several authoritative studies have shown that chemotherapy particularly reduces early metastasis risk. In planning treatment, the MammaPrint test results provide doctors with a clear rationale to assess the benefit of chemotherapy in addition to other clinical information and pathology tests.

Scientists from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), FDA, and nearly 20 major cancer research centers across the United States have united to develop and conduct this unprecedented large-scale scientific collaboration to test novel breast cancer drugs in the neoadjuvant clinical trial setting. Results will be made broadly available to the cancer research and development community in order to foster this integrated approach to improve clinical trial success and the efficacy of cancer therapeutics.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

European Breast Cancer Patients to be Treated With Revolutionary Therapy System

For the first time, breast cancer patients in Europe will receive treatment using a revolutionary system called AccuBoost. The Italian hospital where the patients are being treated is using the technology to pinpoint the tumor bed and treat it whilst still protecting the patient's healthy surrounding tissue and organs.

The new treatment option is made possible by the system combining real-time mammographic image guidance and non-invasive use of a radiotherapy technique called brachytherapy, a high-precision radiation therapy in which the radiation source used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors is placed in or close to the tumor itself. Precision brachytherapy allows a physician to concentrate a high dose of radiation in a small area, minimizing damage to nearby, healthy body tissue and organs, over a shorter treatment period.

Professor Roberto Orecchia; Director of the Division of Radiotherapy, is leading the use of the new system at the Istituto Europeo di Oncologia in Milan and explained: 'When the patient is treated with AccuBoost, the image is seen in real-time, guaranteeing radiotherapy that is extremely precise in its targeting of the tumour bed. This is a very innovative procedure because for the first time mammography images can be used to guide the radiotherapy treatment in such an extremely precise and adaptive manner. There is also a time benefit, so this year, we will be able to treat 50 percent of patients more quickly and efficiently than before, reducing treatment time from six weeks to three weeks.'

The Istituto Europeo di Oncologia is the first hospital in Europe to use AccuBoost, which was certified for use in Europe just six weeks ago. The technology was developed by Nucletron, a knowledge-based leader in Radiation Oncology, and ART a company dedicated to the advancement of partial breast irradiation with the goal of reducing the cancer recurrence rate and minimizing radiation related complications. The two companies specialize in advancing radiation oncology by developing state-of-the-art equipment for high precision brachytherapy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Updated IMPACT Results Confirm that Provenge® Improves Overall Survival in Patients with Metastatic Castrate-Resistant Prostate Cancer (CRPC)

Data from the pivotal Phase 3 IMPACT (IMmunotherapy for Prostate AdenoCarcinoma Treatment) study, a 512-patient, multi-center, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating men with asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic, metastatic, castrate-resistant (hormone-refractory) prostate cancer (CRPC) with overall survival as the primary endpoint, demonstrates that sipuleucel-T (Provenge®, Dendreon Corporation) does extends overall survival in men with CRPC. The data will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2010 Genitourinary Cancers Symposium (ASCO-GU) in San Francisco on Friday, March 5 at 1:45 pm PT.

Active Cellular Immunotherapies

Sipuleucel-T is an investigational product candidate for men with advanced prostate cancer and may represent the first in a new class of Active Cellular Immunotherapies (ACIs) specifically designed to engage the patient's own immune system against cancer. The drug candidate and other ACIs are uniquely designed to use live human cells to engage the patient's own immune system with the goal of eliciting a specific long-lasting response against cancer. In contrast to Passive Cellular Immunotherapy, where effector cells are infused into the patient but not induced or expanded within the patient, ACI involves inducing an effective response to tumor cells within patients whose immune systems have failed to do so on their own. These methods generally involve introducing tumor antigens to the host effector cells.


A sensitivity analysis performed with longer-term follow-up (36.5 months) and additional events (349 deaths) collected at the time of study closure demonstrated that sipuleucel-T increased three-year survival by 40 percent compared to placebo (32.1% vs 23.0%), the median survival difference of sipuleucel-T compared to placebo was maintained at 4.1 months, with a 24.1% reduction in the risk of death [HR=0.759] and a p-value of 0.017.

As previously reported in a primary analysis (34.1 months median follow-up; 331 deaths), the IMPACT study met its pre-specified primary endpoint of significantly improving overall survival compared to placebo, demonstrating that sipuleucel-T increased three-year survival by 38 percent compared to placebo (31.7% vs 23.0%), extending median survival by 4.1 months compared to placebo (25.8 months vs. 21.7 months), with a 22.5 percent reduction in the risk of death [HR=0.775] and a p-value of 0.032.

In addition, new analyses demonstrated that the median predicted survival of the two treatment arms using the Halabi model were well balanced (20.3 months for sipuleucel-T vs 21.2 months for placebo). Furthermore, in an analysis in which patients were censored at the time of docetaxel use, the sipuleucel-T treatment effect remained strong [HR=0.649].

As previously reported, the most common adverse reactions were chills, fever, headache, aches, influenza-like illness and sweating.

"The results from the IMPACT study corroborate earlier studies with sipuleucel-T in demonstrating an improvement in overall survival for men with metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer. This is the first therapeutic vaccine to demonstrate a survival benefit in cancer," said Philip Kantoff, M.D., Director of the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, Chief of the Division of Solid Tumor Oncology, and Chief Clinical Research Officer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and principal investigator of the IMPACT study. "Furthermore, the results of this study validate cancer immunotherapy as an entirely new treatment paradigm that can provide patients with a clinically meaningful survival benefit coupled with a well-tolerated safety profile."

License Application

Dendreon Corporation is seeking licensure for sipuleucel-T for men with metastatic CRPC and submitted an amended Biologics License Application for which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration assigned a Prescription Drug User Fee Act date of May 1, 2010.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

First Targeted Biological Therapy to Show Survival Benefit in Stomach Cancer

The European Commission has approved trastuzumab (herceptin, Roche Pharmaceuticals) in combination with chemotherapy for use in patients with HER2-positive metastatic stomach (gastric) cancer.

Trastuzumab is a humanized antibody, designed to target and block the function of HER2, a protein produced by a specific gene with cancer-causing potential. The mode of action of trastuzumab is unique in that it activates the body’s immune system and suppresses HER2 to target and destroy the tumor. trastuzumab has demonstrated unprecedented efficacy in treating both early and advanced (metastatic) HER2-positive breast cancer.

The approval of trastuzumab in combination with chemotherapy for the treatment of metastatic stomic cancer is based on the impressive results from the international ToGA trial, which showed that treatment with trastuzumab significantly prolongs the lives of patients with this aggressive cancer. Overall survival for patients with high levels of HER2 in the ToGA study was 16 months versus 11.8 months (on average) for patients receiving chemotherapy alone [1]

“Herceptin is the first targeted biological therapy to show a survival benefit in advanced stomach cancer and represents a significant advance in the treatment of this devastating disease”, said Pascal Soriot, Chief Operating Officer of, Roche’s Pharmaceutical Division. “We believe that Herceptin will help patients with HER2-positive stomach cancer, as much as it has helped so many women with HER2-positive breast cancer.”

Based on the strong results from the phase III ToGA study, the submission for the label extension was reviewed in an accelerated process by the European Health Authorities, allowing patients to benefit sooner from this life-extending treatment. This marketing authorization is valid with immediate effect in all European Union (EU) and EEA-EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). Following approval in the European Union, approvals for a label extension for trastuzumab in other regions of the world are expected to follow soon.

“I am delighted that today’s approval will make Herceptin available to patients with HER-2 positive metastatic stomach cancer across Europe,” said Professor Eric Van Cutsem, University Hospital Gasthuisberg, Leuven, Belgium, one of the lead investigators of the ToGA trial. “The approval of Herceptin for HER2-positive stomach cancer represents an important advance for the treatment of these patients. Clinicians will need to ensure that patients with metastatic stomach cancer are accurately tested for HER2 expression.”

Diagnosis and treatment
Stomach cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the world and is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer, with over 1,000,000 cases of stomach cancer diagnosed each year [2] Advanced stomach cancer is associated with a poor prognosis; the median survival time after diagnosis is approximately 10-11 months with currently available therapies. [3] Approximately 15 - 18% of stomach tumours show high levels of HER2 [4,5]. Early diagnosis of this disease is challenging because most patients do not show symptoms in the early stage.

ToGA is the first randomized Phase III trial investigating the use of trastuzumab in patients with inoperable locally advanced, recurrent and/or metastatic HER2-positive stomach cancer. Approximately 3,800 patients were tested for HER2-positive tumors and 594 patients with HER2-positive disease were enrolled into the study. 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. Targeted cancer therapies are drugs or other substances that block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules involved in tumor growth and progression.

In the ToGA study, patients were randomized to receive one of the following regimens as their first line of treatment:

  • A fluoropyrimidine (capecitabine (xeloda) or intravenous 5-FU (5-fluorouracil)) and cisplatin every 3 weeks for 6 cycles. Most patients were receiving capecitabine and cisplatin as chemotherapy
  • Trastuzumab 6mg/kg every 3 weeks until progression in combination with a fluoropyrimidine and cisplatin for 6 cycles
Study results
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.

Trastuzumab increased the median overall survival time by 2.7 months to 13.8 months (intent to treat patient group, defined as IHC3+ or FISH-positive, represented 22% of patients tested for HER2 in the ToGA study). The response rate was increased with trastuzumab from 34.5 % to 47.3%. Patients with tumors exhibiting high levels of HER2 (IHC3+ or IHC2+/FISH-positive, 16% of patients tested for HER2 in the ToGA study) experienced even greater benefit from the addition of trastuzumab. For these patients, overall survival in the study was 16 months on average versus 11.8 months for patients receiving chemotherapy alone. The EU label recommends trastuzumab for patients expressing high levels of HER2.

Personalized Healthcare: Fitting treatments to patients
Different people respond differently to medicines. The aim of aim of a personalized approach to healthcare is to target treatments to the patients most likely to benefit. This means tailoring treatments to specific patient sub-groups who share similar characteristics in their genetic makeup or in the molecular nature of their disease. This approach has enormous potential to make healthcare better, safer and more effective, with benefits for patients, physicians, payers, and society at large.

Trastuzumab treatment in breast cancer is a case in point: Measuring the levels of the protein HER2 in breast cancer cells with specific tests reliably identifies patients who are likely to respond to trastuzumab. The same approach can also be applied in the diagnosis and the treatment of HER2-positive metastatic gastric cancer with trastuzumab.

[1]Van Cutsem et al. Abstract #7BA ECCO/ESMO 2009
[2]American Cancer Society. Global Cancer Facts & Figures 2007
[3] Ohtsu A. J Gastroenterol 2008;43:256-264
[4] Hofmann M, Stoss O, Shi D, Buttner R, van d, V, Kim W et al. Assessment of a HER2 scoring system for gastric cancer: results from a validation study. Histopathology 2008; 52(7):797-805.
[5] Park DI, Yun JW, Park JH, Oh SJ, Kim HJ, Cho YK et al. HER-2/neu amplification is an independent prognostic factor in gastric cancer. Dig Dis Sci 2006; 51(8):1371-1379.


Friday, January 22, 2010

National Discussion on Proper Use and Support of Oral Chemotherapy in Cancer Care

The growing use of oral chemotherapeutics brings clinical benefits but also raises questions in prescribing, adherence, accessibility and long term follow-up care.

Therfore, US Oncology, Inc. partnered with the Association of Community Cancer Centers, Association of Oncology Social Work, American Society for Clinical Oncology, Community Oncology Alliance, Oncology Nursing Society and the National Patient Advocate Foundation in hosting a panel discussion on Capitol Hill to examine the benefits of oral chemotherapy in cancer care, as well as challenges in its prescribing, accessibility and adherence in the current health care system.

"US Oncology recognizes the benefits of oral chemotherapy treatments and supports their use in that many patients have benefited from their convenience; ease of administration; and in some cases, lessened side effects when compared to traditional chemotherapy," said Leonard Kalman, M.D., Chairman of US Oncology's Public Policy Steering Committee. "As more patients request this therapy option, it is critical that patients and their physicians be fully informed and supported when it comes to effective prescribing, access to care and dosing adherence. We applaud our partners in the oncology community for coming together to address this issue."

Oral Agent in Cancer Care
The panel discussion, entitled "Oral Agents in Cancer: Their Impact on the Treatment of Patients and Providers," featured perspectives from practicing medical oncologists, oncology nurses, oncology social workers and a chemotherapy patient who was unable to access her prescribed oral chemotherapy medication following an insurance coverage denial. As the panelists explained, all healthcare stakeholders must work together to ensure that these life-saving treatments are properly prescribed and administered, effectively covered and financially obtainable for patients as the oral chemotherapeutics market grows.

US Oncology's OncologyRx Care Advantage™ national oral oncology specialty pharmacy service provides this type of financial, administrative and clinical support to cancer patients in need. By working directly with various charitable foundations, the program has provided more than $15 million in drug co-pay assistance to cancer patients since its inception in August 2006. OncologyRx Care Advantage also provides home delivery of prescribed oral cancer therapies, utilizes oncology certified nurses to proactively monitor patient compliance and help manage side effects, and gives patients 24-hour access to oncology certified pharmacists to answer their medication and dosing questions.

Patient Adherence
With intravenous chemotherapy, cancer care providers are able to monitor treatment on site and ensure that patients properly follow to their dosing amount and schedule. However, when patients take their own oral chemotherapy treatments at home, other factors may come into play, such as forgotten doses, omitted doses, emotional factors and other priorities. Adequate patient education and follow-up are critical to make certain patients receive the full treatment they need.

Healthcare providers play a unique and important role in assisting patients' healthy behavior changes. Panelists noted that widespread success in oral chemotherapy treatment will call for improved patient access to treatments; a new level of integration in care among physicians, pharmacists and other clinicians involved with the patient's care; and a new infrastructure in care for prescribing, education and support.

The problem of poor adherence has been a well-recognized problem [1,2,3,4]. Research investigating the effects of nonadherence suggest that in the United States alone, every year more than 125,000 deaths are caused by this phenomenon, accounting for upwards of 10% to 25% of all hospital and nursing home admissions. [5]. These numbers suggest that a patient’s poor or nonadherence is one of the largest and most expensive disease categories in the US. But patient nonadherence is not limited to medications alone. Patients may ‘forget’ to keep their appointments, to follow recommended dietary, adhere to other lifestyle changes, or fail to follow – in some case deliberately sabotage - other aspects of treatment or recommended preventive health practices. As a result, the actual implications of nonadherence go far beyond the financial aspect of patients’ failing to take medication.

"As more cancer patients are likely to look to oral chemotherapy as a more convenient and less invasive treatment option, we need to ensure that systematically, we are ready to meet their needs and providers' needs in terms of ready access to treatment; comprehensive information; and full administrative, clinical and social support throughout the course of treatment," added Dr. Kalman. "We look to the steps we have taken with OncologyRx Care Advantage as a model for this type of support, and we hope the broader healthcare community and policymakers will join us in exploring similar strategies to advance treatment success more broadly in this important area of care."

For more information
[1] Haynes RB. Introduction. In: Haynes RB, Taylor DW, Sackett DL, eds. Compliance in Health Care. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1979:1-18.
[2] Blackwell B. Drug therapy: patient compliance. N Engl J Med. 1973;289:249-252.
[3] Fawcett J. Compliance: definitions and key issues. J Clin Psychiatry. 1995;56(suppl1):4-8.
[4]Davis MS. Variation in patients' compliance with doctors' orders: medical practice and doctor-patient interaction. Psychiatry Med. 1971;2:31-54.
[5] Smith DL. Compliance packaging: a patient education tool. Am Pharm. 1989;NS29(2):42-45, 49-53.


Studies Show Benefit of Advance Detection and Treatment of Gastrointestinal Cancers

A great number of the world's preeminent gastroenterologists will gather during the seventh annual Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium (ASCO GI) from January 22-24, 2010, at the Orlando World Center Marriott to discuss new research on the treatment of gastrointestinal cancers.

Presentations at the meeting will focus on detection and treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, which includes cancers of the colon/rectum, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, small intestine, anus and other digestive organs. More than 275,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with these cancers each year, and nearly 136,000 people die from them. The Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium is co-sponsored by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Institute, the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the American Society for Radiology Oncology (ASTRO) and the Society of Surgical Oncology (SSO).

Highlights from this year Scientific Meeting include the result of four significant studies:

Simple blood test detects colorectal cancer and colorectal adenomas
A new test for blood levels of the CD24 protein is more than 90 percent sensitive and specific for detecting colorectal cancer, and more than 80 percent accurate at detecting potential precancers, called adenomas. These findings may prove useful for identifying patients who would benefit most from colonoscopy.

New test for early detection of pancreatic cancer
Researchers report on a promising immunoassay that detects early-stage pancreatic cancers with a high degree of accuracy. The assay identifies and quantifies blood levels of the PAM4 protein – a unique antigen present in almost 90 percent of pancreatic cancers and precancers. Pancreatic cancer is typically diagnosed at a late stage, when it is more difficult to treat.
Inherited gene variation predicts aggressive gastric cancer
For the first time, researchers report the identification of an inherited genetic variation – located on the CD44 gene – that is linked to increased risk of recurrence in patients with gastric (stomach) cancer.

Adjuvant XELOX chemotherapy regimen slows colon cancer progression in patients of all ages, including those 70+
Adjuvant (post-surgical) treatment with capecitabine and oxaliplatin (XELOX) is more effective than standard 5-fluorouracil and leucovorin (5-FU/LV) for slowing the progression of stage III colon cancer among patients of all ages, including those age 70 and older – findings that may prompt more aggressive treatment for older patients in otherwise good health.
“Growing understanding of molecular biology has helped us make enormous progress in screening, detection and treatment for gastrointestinal cancers,” said Robert P. Sticca, MD, Chairman of the Department of Surgery and Professor at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “These studies describe long-awaited approaches, such as an early detection test for pancreatic cancer and a blood test for colon cancer. Other studies presented during the annual symposium will help us to better personalize treatment for gastric and colon cancers based on patients’ age and genetic factors.”