It was an active quarter in oncology research, especially with the biggest cancer conference of the year—the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)—happening in June. Here are three interesting developments that caught our eye.
Benefits of Dual Chemo Post-Surgery
A study published in a January issue of The Lancet is worth a fresh look because it pertains to “D2 resection,” the surgery that involves removing the primary gastric tumor and lymph nodes around the stomach. The researchers reported that chemotherapy with capecitabine (Xeloda) and oxaliplatin after D2 surgery for patients from Asia with stage 2 or 3 gastric cancer significantly improved disease-free survival compared with D2 surgery alone. This trial, called CLASSIC, is the first positive late-stage study to show that a combination chemotherapy involving a platinum-based compound after D2 surgery is effective for gastric cancer, and it supports the approach used by most major cancer centers in the US.
Revisiting Avastin in Gastric Cancer
In 2010, Genentech revealed that its blockbuster colon cancer drug bevacizumab (Avastin), did not meet its primary goal of improving overall survival in a study of gastric cancer patients. However, several researchers have been combing over the data from that study, and at this year’s ASCO, a group led by scientists from the University of Southern California discussed some of their findings. In reviewing the data, they proposed an ethnic gene profile that may predict who will best respond to the drug. Avastin inhibits angiogenesis, which is the process by which tumors grow new blood vessels. The USC researchers discovered five genetic variations that were less common in the Asian patients who participated in the trial than they were in the European and American patients. The scientists proposed that the disparity may explain why Asian patients did not respond as well to the drug than other ethnic groups in the trial did—a topic they suggested warrants further investigation.
Potential Biomarker to Predict Drug Response
Also at ASCO, biotech giant Amgen presented an analysis of patients with gastric or esophageal tumors that exhibit high levels of a protein called MET. The patients were part of a mid-stage trial for an experimental Amgen drug, rilotumumab (AMG 102). Amgen’s scientists found that adding the drug to chemotherapy in gastric cancer patients who tested high for MET nearly doubled overall survival to 11 months. The results encouraged Amgen to design a pivotal late-stage (phase 3) trial to confirm the results. Amgen is also working with Dako to develop a diagnostic tool to detect high MET expression, so if the drug is ultimately approved by the FDA, it can be targeted to the patients who are most likely to respond well to it.