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New Mutant KRAS Inhibitors Are Showing Promise in Cancer Clinical Trials: Hope For the Once ‘Undruggable’ Target

Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

The November 1st issue of Science highlights a series of findings which give cancer researchers some hope in finally winning a thirty year war with the discovery of drugs that target KRAS, one of the most commonly mutated oncogenes  (25% of cancers), and thought to be a major driver of tumorigenesis. Once considered an undruggable target, mainly because of the smooth surface with no obvious pockets to fit a drug in, as well as the plethora of failed attempts to develop such an inhibitor, new findings with recently developed candidates, highlighted in this article and other curated within, are finally giving hope to researchers and oncologists who have been hoping for a clinically successful inhibitor of this once considered elusive target.

 

For a great review on development of G12C KRas inhibitors please see Dr. Hobb’s and Channing Der’s review in Cell Selective Targeting of the KRAS G12C Mutant: Kicking KRAS When It’s Down

Figure 1Mechanism of Action of ARS853 showing that the inhibitors may not need bind to the active conformation of KRAS for efficacy

Abstract: Two recent studies evaluated a small molecule that specifically binds to and inactivates the KRAS G12C mutant. The new findings argue that the perception that mutant KRAS is persistently frozen in its active GTP-bound form may not be accurate.

 

Although the development of the KRASG12C-specific inhibitor, compound 12 (Ostrem et al., 2013), was groundbreaking, subsequent studies found that the potency of compound 12 in cellular assays was limited (Lito et al., 2016, Patricelli et al., 2016). A search for more-effective analogs led to the development of ARS853 (Patricelli et al., 2016), which exhibited a 600-fold increase of its reaction rate in vitro over compound 12 and cellular activities in the low micromolar range.

 

A Summary and more in-depth curation of the Science article is given below:

After decades, progress against an ‘undruggable’ cancer target

Summary

Cancer researchers are making progress toward a goal that has eluded them for more than 30 years: shrinking tumors by shutting off a protein called KRAS that drives growth in many cancer types. A new type of drug aimed at KRAS made tumors disappear in mice and shrank tumors in lung cancer patients, two companies report in papers published this week. It’s not yet clear whether the drugs will extend patients’ lives, but the results are generating a wave of excitement. And one company, Amgen, reports an unexpected bonus: Its drug also appears to stimulate the immune system to attack tumors, suggesting it could be even more powerful if paired with widely available immunotherapy treatments.

Jocelyn Kaiser. After decades, progress against an ‘undruggable’ cancer target. Science  01 Nov 2019: Vol. 366, Issue 6465, pp. 561 DOI: 10.1126/science.366.6465.561

The article highlights the development of three inhibitors: by Wellspring Biosciences, Amgen, and Mirati Therapeutics.

Wellspring BioSciences

 

In 2013, Dr. Kevan Shokat’s lab at UCSF discovered a small molecule that could fit in the groove of the KRAS mutant G12C.  The G12C as well as the G12D is a common mutation found in KRAS in cancers. KRAS p.G12C mutations predominate in NSCLC comprising 11%–16% of lung adenocarcinomas (45%–50% of mutant KRAS is p.G12C) (Campbell et al., 2016; Jordan et al., 2017), as well as 1%–4% of pancreatic and colorectal adenocarcinomas, respectively (Bailey et al., 2016; Giannakis et al., 2016).  This inhibitor was effective in shrinking, in mouse studies conducted by Wellspring Biosciences,  implanted tumors containing this mutant KRAS.

 

See Wellspring’s news releases below:

March, 2016 – Publication – Selective Inhibition of Oncogenic KRAS Output with Small Molecules Targeting the Inactive State

February, 2016 – Publication – Allele-specific inhibitors inactivate mutant KRAS G12C by a trapping mechanism

Amgen

 

Amgen press release on AMG510 Clinical Trial at ASCO 2019

 

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif., June 3, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) today announced the first clinical results from a Phase 1 study evaluating investigational AMG 510, the first KRASG12C inhibitor to reach the clinical stage. In the trial, there were no dose-limiting toxicities at tested dose levels. AMG 510 showed anti-tumor activity when administered as a monotherapy in patients with locally-advanced or metastatic KRASG12C mutant solid tumors. These data are being presented during an oral session at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago.

“KRAS has been a target of active exploration in cancer research since it was identified as one of the first oncogenes more than 30 years ago, but it remained undruggable due to a lack of traditional small molecule binding pockets on the protein. AMG 510 seeks to crack the KRAS code by exploiting a previously hidden groove on the protein surface,” said David M. Reese, M.D., executive vice president of Research and Development at Amgen. “By irreversibly binding to cysteine 12 on the mutated KRAS protein, AMG 510 is designed to lock it into an inactive state. With high selectivity for KRASG12C, we believe investigational AMG 510 has high potential as both a monotherapy and in combination with other targeted and immune therapies.”

The Phase 1, first-in-human, open-label multicenter study enrolled 35 patients with various tumor types (14 non-small cell lung cancer [NSCLC], 19 colorectal cancer [CRC] and two other). Eligible patients were heavily pretreated with at least two or more prior lines of treatment, consistent with their tumor type and stage of disease. 

Canon, J., Rex, K., Saiki, A.Y. et al. The clinical KRAS(G12C) inhibitor AMG 510 drives anti-tumour immunity. Nature 575, 217–223 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1694-1

Besides blocking tumor growth, AMG510 appears to stimulate T cells to attack the tumor, thus potentially supplying a two pronged attack to the tumor, inhibiting oncogenic RAS and stimulating anti-tumor immunity.

 

Mirati Therapeutics

 

Mirati’s G12C KRAS inhibitor (MRTX849) is being investigated in a variety of solid malignancies containing the KRAS mutation.

 

For recent publication on results in lung cancer see Patricelli M.P., et al. Cancer Discov. 2016; (Published online January 6, 2016)

For more information on Mirati’s KRAS G12C inhibitor see https://www.mirati.com/pipeline/kras-g12c/

 

KRAS G12C Inhibitor (MRTX849)

Study 849-001 – Phase 1b/2 of single agent MRTX849 for solid tumors with KRAS G12C mutation

Phase 1b/2 clinical trial of single agent MRTX849 in patients with advanced solid tumors that have a KRAS G12C mutation.

See details for this study at clinicaltrials.gov

 

Additional References:

Allele-specific inhibitors inactivate mutant KRAS G12C by a trapping mechanism.

Lito P et al. Science. (2016)

Targeting KRAS Mutant Cancers with a Covalent G12C-Specific Inhibitor.

Janes MR et al. Cell. (2018)

Potent and Selective Covalent Quinazoline Inhibitors of KRAS G12C.

Zeng M et al. Cell Chem Biol. (2017)

Campbell, J.D., Alexandrov, A., Kim, J., Wala, J., Berger, A.H., Pedamallu, C.S., Shukla, S.A., Guo, G., Brooks, A.N., Murray, B.A., et al.; Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network (2016). Distinct patterns of somatic genome alterations in lung adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. Nat. Genet.48, 607–616

Jordan, E.J., Kim, H.R., Arcila, M.E., Barron, D., Chakravarty, D., Gao, J., Chang, M.T., Ni, A., Kundra, R., Jonsson, P., et al. (2017). Prospective comprehensive molecular characterization of lung adenocarcinomas for efficient patient matching to approved and emerging therapies. Cancer Discov. 7, 596–609.

Bailey, P., Chang, D.K., Nones, K., Johns, A.L., Patch, A.M., Gingras, M.C., Miller, D.K., Christ, A.N., Bruxner, T.J., Quinn, M.C., et al.; Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative (2016). Genomic analyses identify molecular subtypes of pancreatic cancer. Nature 531, 47–52.

Giannakis, M., Mu, X.J., Shukla, S.A., Qian, Z.R., Cohen, O., Nishihara, R., Bahl, S., Cao, Y., Amin-Mansour, A., Yamauchi, M., et al. (2016). Genomic correlates of immune-cell infiltrates in colorectal carcinoma. Cell Rep. 15, 857–865.

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AI System Used to Detect Lung Cancer

Reporter: Irina Robu, PhD

Lung cancer is characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. The growth spreads beyond the lung by metastasis into nearby tissues. The most common symptoms are coughing (including coughing up blood), weight loss, shortness of breath, and chest pains. The two main types of lung cancer are small-cell lung carcinoma(SCLC) and non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). Lung cancer may be seen on chest radiographs and computed tomography(CT) scans. However, computers seem to be as good or better than regular doctors at detecting tiny lung cancers on CT scans according to scientists from Google.

The AI designed by Google was able to interpret images using the same skills as humans to read microscope slides, X-rays, M.R.I.s and other medical scans by feeding huge amounts of data from medical imaging into the systems. It seems that the researchers were able to train computers to recognize patterns linked to a specific condition.
In a new Google study, the scientists applied artificial intelligence to CT scans used to screen people for lung cancer. Current studies have shown that screening can reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer and can also identify spots that might later become malignant.

The researchers created a neural network with multiple layers of processing and trained the AI by giving it many CT scans from patients whose diagnoses were known. This allows radiologists to sort patients into risk groups and decide whether biopsies are needed or follow up to keep track of the suspected regions. Even though the technology seems promising, but it can have pitfalls such as missing tumors, mistaken benign spots for malignancies and push patients into risky procedures.

Yet, the ability to process vast amounts of data may make it imaginable for artificial intelligence to recognize subtle patterns that humans simply cannot see. It is well understood that the systems should be studied extensively before using them for general public use. The lung-screening neural network is not ready for the clinic yet.

SOURCE

A.I. Took Test To Detect Lung Cancer And Smashed It

 

 

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What about PDL-1 in oncotherapy diagnostics for NSCLC?

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

UPDATED 5/15/2019

Questions on PD-L1 Diagnostics for Immunotherapy in NSCLC
Alexander M. Castellino, PhD
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/862275

Two immunotherapies that target the cell programmed death (PD) pathway are now available, and both nivolumab (Opdivo, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp) are approved for treating advanced, refractory, non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Across several studies in patients with NSCLC, response to these agents has been correlated with PD-L1 staining, which determines PD-L1 levels in the tumor tissue. How do the available assays for PD-L1 compare?

The linear correlation between three commercially available assays is good across a range of cutoff points, concluded a presentation at the 2016 American Association for Clinical Research Annual Meeting.

Cutoffs are defined as the percentage of cells expressing PD-L1 when analyzed histochemically. “The dataset builds confidence that the assays may be used according to the cutoff clinically validated for the drug in question,” Marianne J. Radcliffe, MD, diagnostic associate director at AstraZeneca, toldMedscape Medical News.

“The correlation is good between the assays across the range examined,” she added.

However, a recently published study showed a high rate of discordance between another set of PD-L1 assays that were tested.

Dr Marianne Radcliffe

“Different diagnostic tests yield different results, depending on the cutoff for each assay. We need to harmonize the assays so clinicians are talking about the same thing,” Brendon Stiles, MD, associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York City, told Medscape Medical News.

For Dr Stiles, these studies raise the issue that it is difficult to compare results of diagnostic testing across the different drugs and even with the same drug that are derived from different assays. “More importantly, it raises confusion in clinical practice when a patient’s sample stains positive for PD-L1 with one assay and negative with another,” he said.

“The commercial strategy for developing companion diagnostics for each drug is not in the best interests of the patients. It generates confusion among both clinicians and patients,” Dr Stiles commented. “We need to know if these assays can be used interchangeably,” he said.

As new agents come into the clinic, Dr Stiles believes there should be a universal yes-or-no answer, so that clinicians can use the assay to help decide on the use of immunotherapy.

Three Assays Tested

The study presented by Dr Radcliffe and colleagues investigated three commercially available assays, Ventana SP263, Dako 22C3, and Dako 28-8, with regard to how they compare at different cutoffs. Different studies use different cutoffs to express positivity.

Ventana SP263 was developed as a companion diagnostic for durvalumab (under development by AstraZeneca) using a rabbit monoclonal antibody. Positivity is defined as ≥25% staining of tumor cells.

Dako 22C3 was developed, and is approved, as a companion diagnostic for pembrolizumab. It uses a mouse monoclonal antibody. Positivity is defined as ≥1% and ≥50% staining of tumor cells.

Dako 28-8 was developed as a companion diagnostic for nivolumab and uses a rabbit monoclonal antibody (different from the one used in the Ventana SP263). In clinical practice, this assay is used as a complementary diagnostic for nivolumab, but the drug is approved for use regardless of PD-L1 expression. Positivity is defined as ≥1%, ≥5%, or ≥10% staining of tumor cells.

Ventana SP142 was not included in the study because it is not commercially available, Dr Ratcliffe indicated.
The three assays were used on consecutive sections of 500 archival NSCLC tumor samples obtained from commercial vendors. A single pathologist trained by the manufacturer read all samples in batches on an assay-by-assay basis. Samples were assessed per package inserts provided by Ventana and Dako in a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments program-certified laboratory.

Dr Ratcliffe indicated that between reads of samples from the same patient, there was a washout period for the pathologist to remove bias.

The NSCLC samples included patients with stage I (38%), II (39%), III (20%), and IV (<1%) disease. Histologies included nonsquamous (54%) and squamous (43%) cancers.

All three PD-L1 assays showed similar patterns of staining in the range of 0% to 100%, Dr Ratcliffe indicated.

 

The correlation between any two of the assays was determined from tumor cell membrane staining. The correlation was linear with Spearman correlation of 0.911 for Ventana SP263 vs Dako 22C3; 0.935 for Ventana SP263 vs Dako 28-8; and 0.954 for Dako 28-8 vs Dako 22C3.

“With an overall predictive value of >90%, the assays have closely aligned dynamic ranges, but more work is needed,” Dr Ratcliffe said. “In general, scoring of immunohistochemical assays can be more variable between 1% and 10%, and we plan to look at this in more detail,” she said. These samples need to be reviewed by an independent pathologist, she added.

Dr Radcliffe said that currently, “Direct clinical efficacy data supporting a specific diagnostic test should still be considered as the highest standard of proof for diagnostic clinical utility.”

Why Correlations Are Needed

Pembrolizumab is approved for use only in patients with PD-L1-positive, previously treated NSCLC. A similar patient profile is being considered for nivolumab, for which testing for PD-L1 expression is not required.

For new PD-immunotherapy agents in clinical development, it is not clear whether PD-L1 testing will be mandated.

However, in clinical practice, it is clear that some patients respond to therapy, even if they are PD-L1 negative, as defined from the study. “Is it a failure of the assay, tumor heterogeneity, or is there another time point when PD-L1 expression is turned on?” Dr Stiles asked.

Dr Stiles also pointed out that a recent publication from Yale researchers showed a high a rate of discordance. In this study, PD-L1 expression was determined using two rabbit monoclonal antibodies. Both of these were different from the ones used in the Ventana SP263 and Dako 28-8 assays.

In this study, whole-tissue sections from 49 NSCLC samples were used, and a corresponding tissue microarray was also used with the same 49 samples. Researchers showed that in 49 NSCLC tissue samples, there was intra-assay variability, with results showing fair to poor concordance with the two antibodies. “Assessment of 588 serial section fields of view from whole tissue showed discordant expression at a frequency of 25%.

“Objective determination of PD-L1 protein levels in NSCLC reveals heterogeneity within tumors and prominent interassay variability or discordance. This could be due to different antibody affinities, limited specificity, or distinct target epitopes. Efforts to determine the clinical value of these observations are under way,” the study authors conclude.

The Blueprint Proposal

Coincidentally, a blueprint proposal was announced here at the AACR meeting at a workshop entitled FDA-AACR-ASCO Complexities in Personalized Medicine: Harmonizing Companion Diagnostics across a Class of Targeted Therapies.

The blueprint proposal was developed by four pharmaceutical giants (Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Merck & Co, Inc, AstraZeneca PLC, and Genentech, Inc) and two diagnostic companies (Agilent Technologies, Inc/Dako Corp and Roche/Ventana Medical Systems, Inc).

In this proposal, the development of an evidence base for PD-1/PD-L1 companion diagnostic characterization for NSCLC would be built into studies conducted in the preapproval stage. Once the tests are approved, the information will lay the foundation for postapproval studies to inform stakeholders (eg, patients, physicians, pathologists) on how the test results can best be used to make treatment decisions.

The blueprint proposal is available online.

Dr Ratcliffe is an employee and shareholder of AstraZeneca. Dr Stiles has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 2016 Annual Meeting: Abstract LB-094, presented April 18, 2016.
Quantitative Assessment of the Heterogeneity of PD-L1 Expression in Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer
Joseph McLaughlin, 1,2; Gang Han, 3; Kurt A. Schalper, 2; ….,  Roy Herbst, 1; Patricia LoRusso, 1; David L. Rimm, 2

JAMA Oncol. 2016;2(1):46-54.       http://dx.doi.org:/10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.3638.

Importance  Early-phase trials with monoclonal antibodies targeting PD-1 (programmed cell death protein 1) and PD-L1 (programmed cell death 1 ligand 1) have demonstrated durable clinical responses in patients with non–small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, current assays for the prognostic and/or predictive role of tumor PD-L1 expression are not standardized with respect to either quantity or distribution of expression.

Objective  To demonstrate PD-L1 protein distribution in NSCLC tumors using both conventional immunohistochemistry (IHC) and quantitative immunofluorescence (QIF) and compare results obtained using 2 different PD-L1 antibodies.

Design, Setting, and Participants  PD-L1 was measured using E1L3N and SP142, 2 rabbit monoclonal antibodies, in 49 NSCLC whole-tissue sections and a corresponding tissue microarray with the same 49 cases. Non–small-cell lung cancer biopsy specimens from 2011 to 2012 were collected retrospectively from the Yale Thoracic Oncology Program Tissue Bank. Human melanoma Mel 624 cells stably transfected with PD-L1 as well as Mel 624 parental cells, and human term placenta whole tissue sections were used as controls and for antibody validation. PD-L1 protein expression in tumor and stroma was assessed using chromogenic IHC and the AQUA (Automated Quantitative Analysis) method of QIF. Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) were scored in hematoxylin-eosin slides using current consensus guidelines. The association between PD-L1 protein expression, TILs, and clinicopathological features were determined.

Main Outcomes and Measures  PD-L1 expression discordance or heterogeneity using the diaminobenzidine chromogen and QIF was the main outcome measure selected prior to performing the study.

Results  Using chromogenic IHC, both antibodies showed fair to poor concordance. The PD-L1 antibodies showed poor concordance (Cohen κ range, 0.124-0.340) using conventional chromogenic IHC and showed intra-assay heterogeneity (E1L3N coefficient of variation [CV], 6.75%-75.24%; SP142 CV, 12.17%-109.61%) and significant interassay discordance using QIF (26.6%). Quantitative immunofluorescence showed that PD-L1 expression using both PD-L1 antibodies was heterogeneous. Using QIF, the scores obtained with E1L3N and SP142 for each tumor were significantly different according to nonparametric paired test (P < .001). Assessment of 588 serial section fields of view from whole tissue showed discordant expression at a frequency of 25%. Expression of PD-L1 was correlated with high TILs using both E1L3N (P = .007) and SP142 (P = .02).

Conclusions and Relevance  Objective determination of PD-L1 protein levels in NSCLC reveals heterogeneity within tumors and prominent interassay variability or discordance. This could be due to different antibody affinities, limited specificity, or distinct target epitopes. Efforts to determine the clinical value of these observations are under way.

 

 
Introduction We are in an era of rapid incorporation of basic scientific discoveries into the drug development pipeline. Currently, numerous sponsors are developing therapeutic products that may use similar or identical biomarkers for therapeutic selection, measured or detected by an in vitro companion diagnostic device. The current practice is to independently develop a companion diagnostic for each therapeutic. Thus, the matrix of therapeutics and companion diagnostics, if each therapeutic were approved in conjunction with a companion diagnostic, may present a complex challenge for testing and decision making in the clinic, potentially putting patients at risk if inappropriate diagnostic tests were used to make treatment decisions. To address this challenge, there is a desire to understand assay comparability and/or standardize analytical and clinical performance characteristics supporting claims that are shared across companion diagnostic devices. Pathologists and oncologists also need clarity on how to interpret test results to inform downstream treatment options for their patients.
Clearly using each of the companion diagnostics to select one of the several available targeted therapies in the same class is not practical and may be impossible. Likewise, having a single test or assay as a sole companion test for all of the multiple therapeutic options within a class is also impractical since the individual therapies have differing modes of action, intended use populations, specificities, safety and efficacy outcomes. Thus, a single assay or test may not adequately capture the appropriate patient population that may benefit (or not) from each individual therapeutic option within a class of therapies. Furthermore, aligning multiple sponsors’ study designs and timelines in order that they all adopt a single companion test may inadvertently slow down development of critical therapeutic products and delay patient access to these life-saving products.
Any solution to this challenge will be multifaceted and will, by necessity, involve multiple stakeholders. Thus, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) convened a workshop titled “Complexities in Personalized Medicine: Harmonizing Companion Diagnostics Across a Class of Targeted Therapies” to draw out and assess possible solutions. Recognizing that the complex scientific, regulatory and market forces at play here require a collaborative effort, an industry workgroup volunteered to develop a blueprint proposal of potential solutions using nonsmall cell lung cancer (NSCLC) as the use case indication.
Goal and Scope of Blueprint The imminent arrival to the market of multiple PD1 / PD-L1 compounds and the possibility of one or more associated companion diagnostics is unprecedented in the field of oncology. Some may assume that since these products target the same biological pathway, they are interchangeable; however, each PD1/PD-L1 compound is unique with respect to its clinical pharmacology and each compound is being developed in the context of a unique biological scientific hypothesis and registration strategy. Similarly, each companion diagnostic has been optimized within the individual therapeutic development programs to meet specific development goals, e.g., 1) validation for patient selection, 2) subgroup analysis as a prognostic variable, or 3) enrichment.
Further, each companion diagnostic test is optimized for its specific therapy and with its own unique performance characteristics and scoring/interpretation guidelines.
The blueprint development group recognizes that to assume that any one of the available tests could be used for guiding the treatment decision with any one or all of the drugs available in this class presents a potential risk to patients that must be addressed.
The goal of this proposal is to agree and deliver, via cross industry collaboration, a package of information /data upon which analytic comparison of the various diagnostic assays may be conducted, potentially paving the way for post-market standardization and/or practice guideline development as appropriate.
A comparative study of PD-L1 diagnostic assays and the classification of patients as PD-L1 positive and PD-L1 negative
Presentation Time: Monday, Apr 18, 2016, 8:00 AM -12:00 PM
Location: Section 10
Poster Board Number: 18
Author Block: Marianne J. Ratcliffe1, Alan Sharpe2, Anita Midha1, Craig Barker2, Paul Scorer2, Jill Walker2. 1AstraZeneca, Alderley Park, United Kingdom; 2AstraZeneca, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Abstract Body: Background: PD-1/PD-L1 directed antibodies are emerging as effective therapeutics in multiple oncology settings. Keynote 001 and Checkmate 057 have shown more frequent response to PD-1 targeted therapies in NSCLC patients with high tumour PD-L1 expression than patients with low or no PD-L1 expression. Multiple diagnostic PD-L1 tests are available using different antibody clones, different staining protocols and diverse scoring algorithms. It is vital to compare these assays to allow appropriate interpretation of clinical outcomes. Such understanding will promote harmonization of PD-L1 testing in clinical practice.
Methods: Approximately 500 tumour biopsy samples from NSCLC patients, including squamous and non-squamous histologies, will be assessed using three leading PD-L1 diagnostics assays. PD-L1 assessment by the Ventana SP263 assay that is currently being used in Durvalumab clinical trials (positivity cut off: ≥25% tumour cells with membrane staining) will be compared with the Dako 28-8 assay (used in the Nivolumab Checkmate 057 trial at the 1%, 5% and 10% tumour membrane positivity cut offs), and the Dako 22C3 assay (used in the Pembrolizumab Keynote 001 trial) at the 1% and 50% cut offs).
Results: Preliminary data from 81 non-squamous patients indicated good concordance between the Ventana SP263 and Dako 28-8 assays. Optimal overall percent agreement (OPA) was observed between Dako 28-8 at the 10% cut off and the Ventana SP263 assay (OPA; 96%, Positive percent agreement (PPA); 91%, Negative percent agreement (NPA); 98%), where the Ventana SP263 assay was set as the reference. Data on the full cohort will be presented for all three assays, and a lower 95% confidence interval calculated using the Clopper-Pearson method.
Conclusions: This study indicates that the patient population defined by Ventana SP263 at the 25% cut off is similar to that identified by the Dako-28-8 assay at the 10% tumour membrane cut off. This, together with data on the 22C3 assay, will enable cross comparison of studies using different PD-L1 tests, and widen options for harmonization of PD-L1 diagnostic testing.

http://www.abstractsonline.com/Plan/ViewAbstract.aspx

Table 1
Reference: Ventana SP-263 (≥25% tumour membrane staining)
Dako 28-8 assay cut off PPA
(%)
NPA
(%)
OPA
(%)
>1% 58 100 81
>5% 72 100 90
>10% 91 98 96

UPDATED 5/19/2019

Incidence of Adverse Events for PD-1/PD-L1 Inhibitors Underscores Toxicity Risk

https://www.cancernetwork.com/immuno-oncology/incidence-adverse-events-pd-1pd-l1-inhibitors-underscores-toxicity-risk

May 7, 2019

Approximately two-thirds of cancer patients who received a programmed death 1 (PD-1) or programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) inhibitor in clinical trials experienced treatment-related adverse events, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis recently published in JAMA Oncology. The study findings may facilitate discussions with cancer patients who are considering PD-1 or PD-L1 therapy.

“The vast majority of patients with advanced cancer want to be on the [PD-1 or PD-L1] therapy,” Eric H. Bernicker, MD, a thoracic medical oncologist with Houston Methodist Cancer Center, told Cancer Network. Not involved in the current study, Bernicker explained that patients perceive these therapies to have “very different” side effects and risks from chemotherapy.

While they do, Bernicker explained, it’s important to underscore, which this study does, that these are not “completely innocuous” therapies. The study findings allow physicians to give numbers to patients and families when counseling them about the risks involved, he said.

The systematic review and meta-analysis is based on data from 125 clinical trials and 20,128 participants. Clinical trials were identified by systematically searching for published clinical trials that evaluated single-agent PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors and reported treatment-related adverse events in PubMed, Web of Science, Embase, and Scopus. The majority of trials evaluated nivolumab (n = 46) or pembrolizumab (n = 49), and the most common cancer types were lung cancer (n = 26), genitourinary cancer (n = 22), melanoma (n = 16), and gastrointestinal cancer (n = 14).

In all, 66.0% of clinical trial participants reported at least 1 adverse event of any grade, and 14.0% reported at least 1 grade 3 or higher adverse event. The most frequently reported adverse events of any grade were fatigue (18.26%), pruritus (10.61%), and diarrhea (9.47%). As for grade 3 or higher events, the most commonly reported were fatigue (0.89%), anemia (0.78%), and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) increase (0.75%).

Frequently reported immune-related adverse events of any grade included diarrhea (9.47%), AST increase (3.39%), vitiligo (3.26%), alanine aminotransferase (ALT) increase (3.14%), pneumonitis (2.79%), and colitis (1.24%). Grade 3 or higher immune-related adverse events included AST increase (0.75%), ALT increase (0.70%), pneumonitis (0.67%), diarrhea (0.59%), and colitis (0.47%).

If present, certain adverse events had increased likelihood of being grade 3 or higher, including hepatitis (risk ratio [RR], 50.59%), pneumonitis (RR, 24.01%), type 1 diabetes (RR, 41.86%), and colitis (RR, 37.90%).

“In terms of the rough percentage of side effects and the breadth of the side effects, this is pretty much what most of us see in the clinic,” Bernicker said, noting that none of the findings were particularly surprising.

Although no differences in adverse event incidence were found across different cancer types, differences were found between PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors in a subgroup analysis. Overall, compared with PD-L1 inhibitors, PD-1 inhibitors had a higher mean incidence of grade 3 or higher events (odds ratio [OR], 1.58; 95% CI, 1.00–2.54). Specifically, nivolumab had a higher mean incidence of grade 3 or higher events (OR, 1.81; 95% CI, 1.04–3.01) compared with PD-L1 inhibitors.

Bernicker commented that these incidence differences on the basis of drug type were “intriguing” but not clinically useful, given that PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors are not interchangeable. He said the finding “needs to be further looked at.”

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PLD1 tests for Lung Cancer

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

PLBI

 

AACR: Three PD-L1 Biomarker Tests Give Similar Results in Lung Cancer

http://www.oncotherapynetwork.com/lung-cancer-targets/aacr-three-pd-l1-biomarker-tests-give-similar-results-lung-cancer?GUID=08B7ACA4-07B7-4253-8ACC-0C9AAFF0371A&rememberme=1&ts=22042016#sthash.1sWQZ14d.dpuf

 

Three commercial tests that measure levels of PD-L1 on tumors showed similar results on non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumor samples, according to a study presented at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting, being held April 16-20, 2016, in New Orleans.
Two anti-PD-1 immunotherapy antibodies are now approved for certain patients with metastatic NSCLC (see FDA Approves Keytruda for Metastatic Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and FDA Approves Nivolumab (Opdivo) for NSCLC).

Several pharmaceutical companies are developing diagnostic tests to measure the levels of PD-L1 protein expression on patients’ tumors. Two clinical trials, with both nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda), support the notion that those patients whose tumors have higher levels of PD-L1 on their surface are more likely to respond to anti-PD-1 treatment compared to those patients whose tumors have low or no PD-L1 expression.

“Before our study, we did not know whether the different assays identified the same patients,” said study author Marianne Ratcliffe, PhD, MA, a diagnostic associate director at AstraZeneca, which is developing durvalumab/MEDI4736, an anti-PD-L1 immunotherapy antibody.

The current study compared the Ventana SP263 assay (developed by Ventana) in collaboration with AstraZeneca for use in conjunction with patients treated with durvalumab, the Dako 22C3 assay (by Dako), approved for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a companion diagnostic to identify patients who are most likely to benefit from pembrolizumab, and the Dako 28-8 assay, approved by the FDA as a complementary diagnostic for nivolumab. All three tests measure the percentage of tumor cells within a sample that stain positive for the surface protein PD-L1. Each test sets a unique cut-off point of test positivity which corresponds to a greater likelihood of response to the immunotherapy among lung cancer patients.

The researchers evaluated the three tests on 500 patient biopsy samples, including both squamous and nonsquamous histologies. The comparison showed that a 25% cutoff using the Ventana SP263 test was similar to the results using the Dako 28-8 test at a 10% cutoff mark. There were similar results between the SP263 and the 22C3 tests at a 50% cut off mark.

The three tests achieved overall percentage agreement of more than 90%, according to Radcliffe. She also noted that this study points to the ability to extrapolate results from one test to another, which in the future, could allow physicians to use the tests interchangeably.

 

Comparison of Three Different PD-L1 Diagnostic Tests Shows a High Degree of Concordance

4/18/2016

NEW ORLEANS — Three commercially available diagnostic tests were similarly effective in measuring  PD-L1 protein expression on non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumor samples, indicating that health care providers may someday be able to use these tests interchangeably when determining which patients will respond best to anti-PD-L1/PD-1 immunotherapeutic drugs, according to research presented here at the AACR Annual Meeting 2016, April 16-20.Marianne Ratcliffe

“PD-L1-directed antibodies are emerging as effective therapeutics in monotherapy and in combination in multiple oncology settings,” said the study’s lead author, Marianne Ratcliffe, MA, PhD, diagnostic associate director at AstraZeneca. She explained that several different diagnostic tests, or assays, are effective in determining which patients’ tumors express high levels of PD-L1 and might, therefore, respond best to targeted treatment.

“Before our study, we did not know whether the different assays identified the same patients,” Ratcliffe said, adding that the tests were developed on different platforms and use different antibody clones and testing protocols.

“Clearly, for the oncology community, this presents a number of issues, including a lack of confidence in being able to identify appropriate patients for treatment with these targeted therapies,” Ratcliffe said. “Our current study complements the ongoing Blueprint initiative, which is also tackling the issue of PD-L1 assay harmonization.”

This study compared the Ventana SP263 assay, developed by Ventana in collaboration with AstraZeneca for use in evaluating patients for the immunotherapeutic drug durvalumab, an anti-PD-L1; the Dako 22C3 assay, made by Dako and approved for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a companion diagnostic to identify patients for pembrolizumab (Keytruda), an anti-PD-1; and the Dako 28-8 assay, made by Dako and approved by the FDA as a complementary diagnostic for nivolumab (Opdivo), an anti-PD-1.

All three tests assess the percentage of tumor cells whose membranes stain positive for the PD-L1 protein. A cut-off point is set for each test, and patients whose tumors score above the cut-off point are determined to be more likely to respond to the corresponding therapy, Ratcliffe explained.

In this study, the largest to date, approximately 500 tumor biopsy samples from patients with NSCLC were assessed because all three tests have been previously validated for that disease.
The study determined that the patient population defined by Ventana SP263 at the 25 percent cutoff point is similar to the group identified by the Dako 28-8 at the 10 percent cutoff. The study also showed a high degree of concordance between the SP263 and 22C3 assays if a 50 percent cutoff point was applied in both cases.

Ratcliffe said that the three tests achieved overall percentage agreement of more than 90 percent.  The results also indicate which cutoff points should be used to optimize agreement between a positive or negative PD-L1 result, which will help the medical community to compare results from clinical studies that have used different tests.

Ratcliffe said the study results indicate that it may be possible to extrapolate the results from one test to that of another test, and could someday allow physicians to use the tests interchangeably, though she added that further research is needed to confirm the findings.

 

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ATCC Announces First Isogenic Cell Line Produced by the CRISPR/Cas9 Technology

CellPassages-1-2016_cancer

 

 

 

 

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD.

 

 

EML4-ALK Isogenic Cells — New!

ATCC is proud to announce its first product developed using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, the EML4-ALK Fusion-A549 Isogenic Cell Line Human (ATCC® CCL-185IG™). This cell line was derived from the parental A549 (ATCC® CCL-185™) non-small cell lung cancer cell line. EML4-ALK Fusion-A549 Isogenic Cell Line has been intensively validated on the genome, transcript, and protein level, and is otherwise identical to the parental line. This isogenic cell line is more sensitive to ALK inhibitor crizotinib when compared to A549, and serves as a vital model to study cell signaling pathways in cancer as well as in drug screening when used side-by-side with A549 cells.

Further your lung cancer research with the EML4-ALK Fusion-A549 Isogenic Cell Line Human ATCC® CCL-185IG™ derived from A549 ATCC ® CCL-185™ today!

lunc cancer cells

 

Lung Cancer

Lung cancers are classified by type: small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) and non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). SCLCs are associated with smoking and metastasize very early. By contrast, non-smokers usually present with NSCLC, which are further subdivided into squamous cell carcinomas, adenocarcinomas, and large cell carcinomas. Since both SCLC and NSCLC are usually diagnosed after the disease has spread beyond the primary site, the overall survival rates for lung cancers are poor. To breathe new life into your lung cancer research, ATCC provides numerous lung cancer cell lines, a new gene-edited isogenic NSCLC cell line, human primary cells, and h-TERT-immortalized cell lines. And to increase the throughput of your lung cancer experiments, ATCC has lung cancer cell lines organized into tumor cell panels.

Find out more about ATCC Lung Cancer Resources.

Physiologically Relevant Controls

All experiments should include physiologically relevant controls. ATCC provides both primary and hTERT-immortalized bronchial epithelial cells and small airway cells that may be used side-by-side with NSCLC or SCLC cells as normal controls. The primary and hTERT-immortalized cells may also be used to create 3D cell culture models to better represent an in vivo environment, ex vivo.

Browse the ATCC Primary Cells and hTERT Immortalized Cells to find physiological models relevant for your research needs.

Add new dimension to your research, read our application note Human Bronchial/Tracheal Epithelial Cells: Improving Functional Studies to find out how primary bronchial epithelial cells differentiate into mature airway tissue using a 3-D Air-Liquid Culture Interface model.

 

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Multiple factors related to initial trial design may predict low patient accrual for cancer clinical trials

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

UPDATED 5/15/2019

A recently published paper in JCNI highlights results determining factors which may affect cancer trial patient accrual and the development of a predictive model of accrual issues based on those factors.

To hear a JCNI podcast on the paper click here

but below is a good posting from scienmag.com which describes their findings:

Factors predicting low patient accrual in cancer clinical trials

source: http://scienmag.com/factors-predicting-low-patient-accrual-in-cancer-clinical-trials/

Nearly one in four publicly sponsored cancer clinical trials fail to enroll enough participants to draw valid conclusions about treatments or techniques. Such trials represent a waste of scarce human and economic resources and contribute little to medical knowledge. Although many studies have investigated the perceived barriers to accrual from the patient or provider perspective, very few have taken a trial-level view and asked why certain trials are able to accrue patients faster than expected while others fail to attract even a fraction of the intended number of participants. According to a study published December 29 in the JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a number of measurable trial characteristics are predictive of low patient accrual.

Caroline S. Bennette, M.P.H., Ph.D., of the Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research and Policy Program, University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center analyzed information on 787 phase II/III clinical trials sponsored by the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN; formerly the Cooperative Group Program) launched between 2000 and 2011. After excluding trials that closed because of toxicity or interim results, Bennette et al. found that 145 (18%) of NCTN trials closed with low accrual or were accruing at less than 50% of target accrual 3 years or more after opening.

The authors identified potential risk factors from the literature and interviews with clinical trial experts and found multiple trial-level factors that were associated with poor accrual to NCTN trials, such as increased competition for patients from currently ongoing trials, planning to enroll a higher proportion of the available patient population, and not evaluating a new investigational agent or targeted therapy. Bennette et al. then developed a multivariable prediction model of low accrual using 12 trial-level risk factors, which they reported had good agreement between predicted and observed risks of low accrual in a preliminary validation using 46 trials opened between 2012 and 2013.

The researchers conclude that “Systematically considering the overall influence of these factors could aid in the design and prioritization of future clinical trials…” and that this research provides a response to the recent directive from the Institute of Medicine to “improve selection, support, and completion of publicly funded cancer clinical trials.”

In an accompanying editorial, Derek Raghavan, M.D., Levine Cancer Institute, writes that the focus needs to be on getting more patients involved in trials, saying, “we should strive to improve trial enrollment, giving the associated potential for improved results. Whether the basis is incidental, because of case selection bias, or reflects the support available to trial patients has not been determined, but the fact remains that outcomes are better.”

###

Contact info:

Article: Caroline S. Bennette, M.P.H., Ph.D., cb11@u.washington.edu

Editorial: Derek Raghavan, M.D., derek.raghavan@carolinashealthcare.org

Other investigators also feel that initial trial design is of UTMOST importance for other reasons, especially in the era of “precision” or “personalized” medicine and why the “basket trial” or one size fits all trial strategy is not always feasible.

In Why the Cancer Research Paradigm Must Transition to “N-of-1” Approach

Dr. Maurie Markman, MD gives insight into why the inital setup of a trial and the multi-center basket type of  accrual can be a problematic factor in obtaining meaningful cohorts of patients with the correct mutational spectrum.

The anticancer clinical research paradigm has rapidly evolved so that subject selection is increasingly based on the presence or absence of a particular molecular biomarker in the individual patient’s malignancy. Even where eligibility does not mandate the presence of specific biological features, tumor samples are commonly collected and an attempt is subsequently made to relate a particular outcome (eg, complete or partial objective response rate; progression-free or overall survival) to the individual cancer’s molecular characteristics.

One important result of this effort has been the recognition that there are an increasing number of patient subsets within what was previously—and incorrectly—considered a much larger homogenous patient population; for example, non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) versus EGFR-mutation–positive NSCLC. And, while it may still be possible to conduct phase III randomized trials involving a relatively limited percentage of patients within a large malignant entity, extensive and quite expensive effort may be required to complete this task. For example, the industry-sponsored phase III trial comparing first-line crizotinib with chemotherapy (pemetrexed plus either carboplatin or cisplatin) in ALK-rearrangement–positive NSCLC, which constitutes 3% to 5% of NSCLCs, required an international multicenter effort lasting 2.5 years to accrue the required number of research subjects.1

But what if an investigator, research team, or biotech company desired to examine the clinical utility of an antineoplastic in a patient population representing an even smaller proportion of patients with NSCLC such as in the 1% of the patient population with ROS1 abnormalities,2 or in a larger percentage of patients representing 4%-6% of patients with a less common tumor type such as ovarian cancer? How realistic is it that such a randomized trial could ever be conducted?

Further, considering the resources required to initiate and successfully conduct a multicenter international phase III registration study, it is more than likely that in the near future only the largest pharmaceutical companies will be in a position to definitively test the clinical utility of an antineoplastic in a given clinical situation.

One proposal to begin to explore the benefits of targeted antineoplastics in the setting of specific molecular abnormalities has been to develop a socalled “basket trial” where patients with different types of cancers with varying treatment histories may be permitted entry, assuming a well-defined molecular target is present within their cancer. Of interest, several pharmaceutical companies have initiated such clinical research efforts.

Yet although basket trials represent an important research advance, they may not provide the answer to the molecular complexities of cancer that many investigators believe they will. The research establishment will have to take another step toward innovation to “N-of-1” designs that truly explore the unique nature of each individual’s cancer.

Trial Illustrates Weaknesses

A recent report of the results of one multicenter basket trial focused on thoracic cancers demonstrates both the strengths but also a major fundamental weakness of the basket trial approach.3

However, the investigators were forced to conclude that despite accrual of more than 600 patients onto a study conducted at two centers over a period of approximately 2 years, “this basket trial design was not feasible for many of the arms with rare mutations.”3

They concluded that they needed a larger number of participating institutions and the ability to adapt the design for different drugs and mutations. So the question to be asked is as follows: Is the basket-type approach the only alternative to evaluate the clinical relevance of a targeted antineoplastic in the presence of a specific molecular abnormality?

Of course, the correct answer to this question is surely: No!

– See more at: http://www.onclive.com/publications/Oncology-live/2015/July-2015/Why-the-Cancer-Research-Paradigm-Must-Transition-to-N-of-1-Approach#sthash.kLGwNzi3.dpuf

The following is a video on the website ClinicalTrials.gov which is a one-stop service called EveryClinicalTrial to easily register new clinical trials and streamline the process:

 

UPDATED 5/15/2019

Another possible roadblock to patient accrual has always been the fragmentation of information concerning the availability of clinical trails and coordinating access among the various trial centers, as well as performing analytics on trial data to direct new therapeutic directions.  The NIH has attempted to circumvent this problem with the cancer trials webpage trials.gov however going through the vast number of trials, patient accrual requirements, and finding contact information is a daunting task.  However certain clinical trial marketplaces are now being developed which may ease access problems to clinical trials as well as data analytic issues, as highlighted by the Scientist.com article below:

Scientist.com Launches Trial Insights, A Transformative Clinical Trials Data Analytics Solution

The world’s largest online marketplace rolls out first original service, empowering researchers with on demand insights into clinical trials to help drive therapeutic decisions

SAN DIEGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Scientist.com, the online marketplace for outsourced research, announced today the launch of Trial Insights, a digital reporting solution that simplifies data produced through clinical trial, biomarker and medical diagnostic studies into an intuitive and user-friendly dashboard. The first of its kind, Trial Insights curates publicly available data nightly from information hubs such as clinicaltrials.gov and customizes it to fit a researcher or research organization’s specific project needs.

Trial Insights, new clinical trial reporting solution, allows researchers to keep track of the evolving landscape of drugs, diseases, sponsors, investigators and medical devices important to their work.

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“Trial Insights offers researchers an easy way to navigate the complexity of clinical trials information,” said Ron Ranauro, Founder of Incite Advisors. “Since Trial Insights’ content is digitally curated, researchers can continuously keep track of the evolving landscape of drugs, diseases, sponsors, investigators and medical devices important to their work.”

As the velocity, variety and veracity of data available on sites like clinicaltrials.gov continues to increase, the ability to curate it becomes more valuable to different audiences. With the advancement of personalized medicine, it is important to make the data accessible to the health care and patient communities. Information found on the Trial Insights platform can help guide decision making across the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and contract research organization industries as clinical trial data is a primary information source for competitive intelligence, research planning and clinical study planning.

“We are extremely excited to launch the first Scientist.com exclusive, original service offering to our clients in the life sciences,” said Mark Herbert, Scientist.com Chief Business Officer. “Our goal at Scientist.com is to help cure all diseases by 2050, and we believe solutions like Trial Insights, which greatly simplifies access to and reporting of clinical trial data, will get us one step closer to reaching that goal.”

source: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190416005362/en/Scientist.com-Launches-Trial-Insights-Transformative-Clinical-Trials?utm_source=TrialIO+List

 

Other article on this Open Access Journal on Cancer Clinical Trial Design include:

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Lung Cancer Therapy

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

Lung Cancer Targets

http://www.oncotherapynetwork.com/lung-cancer-targets

The enzyme ephrin receptor A2 (EphA2) normally blocks KRAS mutation-driven lung adenocarcinoma tumorigenesis, but a new study shows that EphA2 deletion mutation allows aggressive tumor growth—providing “important therapeutic targets” for this deadly form of lung cancer.

Using shRNA-mediated screening of 4,700 candidate human genes with tumor suppression potential, the team subsequently identified 16 genes in animal models that inhibit or slow KRAS- or TP53-driven tumorigenesis. The loss of EphA2 enhanced KRASG12D-driven lung adenocarcinoma carcinogenesis, they found.1

“We identified several tumor suppressors, including EphA2, loss of which promotes adenocarcinoma in the context of KRASG12D mutation,” the coauthors reported.1EphA2 loss promotes cell proliferation by activating ERK MAP kinase signaling and hedgehog signaling pathways, leading to tumorigenesis.”

A KRAS mutation is associated with tumorigenesis in 300 days, in animal models, noted senior author Inder Verma, PhD, Professor of Genetics and the Salk Institute’s Irwin and Joan Jacobs Chair in Exemplary Life Science.

“But without EphA2, the KRAS mutation leads to tumors in half the time, 120 to 150 days,” Dr. Verma noted. “This molecule EphA2 is having a huge effect on restraining cancer growth when KRAS is mutated.”

Up to 20% of all cancers harbor KRAS mutations, and these aberrations are particularly common in lung and colon cancers. EphA2 gene mutations were found in 54 of 230 patients whose lung adenocarcinoma tumor genomes were sequenced in the Cancer Genome Atlas Project, the coauthors noted.

“Oddly, among human lung cancer patients with EPhA2 mutations, around 8% of patients actually have high EphA2 expression,” cautioned coauthor Yifeng Xia, PhD, also at the Salk Institute. “So, in some instances, EphA2 is not suppressing tumors and may be context-dependent. Therefore, we need to carefully evaluate the molecule’s function when designing new therapeutics.”

EphA2 activation suppresses both cell signaling and cell proliferation, the team noted.  “We believe that the enzyme might serve as a potential drug target in KRAS-dependent lung adenocarcinoma,” explained lead study author Narayana Yeddula, PhD, a Salk research associate.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies. (2015). Molecular “brake” stifles human lung cancer.

 

Molecular “brake” stifles human lung cancer  

By testing over 4,000 genes in human tumors, a Salk team uncovered an enzyme responsible for suppressing a common and deadly lung cancer

 

 

SMO Gene Amplification and Activation of the Hedgehog Pathway as Novel Mechanisms of Resistance to Anti-Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Drugs in Human Lung Cancer

Carminia Maria Della Corte1Claudio Bellevicine2Giovanni Vicidomini3Donata Vitagliano1Umberto Malapelle2, et al.

Clin Cancer Res Oct 15, 2015; 21: 4686   http://dx.doi.org:/10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-14-3319   

 

Purpose: Resistance to tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) of EGF receptor (EGFR) is often related to activation of other signaling pathways and evolution through a mesenchymal phenotype.

Experimental Design: Because the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway has emerged as an important mediator of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), we studied the activation of Hh signaling in models of EGFR-TKIs intrinsic or acquired resistance from both EGFR-mutated and wild-type (WT) non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines.

Results: Activation of the Hh pathway was found in both models of EGFR-mutated and EGFR-WT NSCLC cell line resistant to EGFR-TKIs. In EGFR-mutated HCC827-GR cells, we found SMO (the Hh receptor) gene amplification, MET activation, and the functional interaction of these two signaling pathways. In HCC827-GR cells, inhibition of SMO or downregulation of GLI1 (the most important Hh-induced transcription factor) expression in combination with MET inhibition exerted significant antitumor activity.

In EGFR-WT NSCLC cell lines resistant to EGFR inhibitors, the combined inhibition of SMO and EGFR exerted a strong antiproliferative activity with a complete inhibition of PI3K/Akt and MAPK phosphorylation. In addition, the inhibition of SMO by the use of LDE225 sensitizes EGFR-WT NSCLC cells to standard chemotherapy.

Conclusions:This result supports the role of the Hh pathway in mediating resistance to anti-EGFR-TKIs through the induction of EMT and suggests new opportunities to design new treatment strategies in lung cancer. Clin Cancer Res; 21(20); 4686–97. ©2015 AACR.

This article is featured in Highlights of This Issue, p. 4497

Translational Relevance

The amplification of SMO in non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) resistant to EGFR-TKIs opens new possibilities of treatment for those patients who failed first-line EGFR-targeted therapies. The synergistic interaction of the Hedgehog (Hh) and MET pathways further support the rationale for a combined therapy with specific inhibitors. In addition, Hh pathway activation is essential for the acquisition of mesenchymal properties and, as such, for the aggressiveness of the disease. Also, in EGFR wild-type NSCLC models, inhibition of Hh, along with inhibition of EGF receptor (EGFR), can revert the resistance to anti-EGFR targeted drugs. In addition, inhibition of the Hh pathway sensitizes EGFR wild-type NSCLC to standard chemotherapy. These data encourage further evaluation of Hh inhibitors as novel therapeutic agents to overcome tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) resistance and to revert epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in NSCLC.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) against the EGF receptor (EGFR) represent the first example of molecularly targeted agents developed in the treatment of non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and are, currently, useful treatments after failure of first-line chemotherapy and, more importantly, for the first-line treatment of patients whose tumors have EGFR-activating gene mutations (1). However, after an initial response, all patients experience disease progression as a result of resistance occurrence. Recognized mechanisms of acquired resistance to anti-EGFR-TKIs in EGFR-mutated NSCLC are METgene amplification or the acquisition of secondary mutations such as the substitution of a threonine with a methionine (T790M) in exon 20 of the EGFR gene itself (2). However, these molecular changes are able to identify only a portion of patients with cancer defined as “non-responders” to EGFR-targeted agents. A number of molecular abnormalities in cancer cells may partly contribute to resistance to anti-EGFR agents (2, 3). Our group and others have shown that epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a critical event in the metastatic switch and is generally associated with resistance to molecularly targeted agents in NSCLC models (4, 5). EMT is a process characterized by loss of polarity and dramatic remodeling of cell cytoskeleton through loss of epithelial cell junction proteins, such as E-cadherin, and gain of mesenchymal markers, such as vimentin (6). The clinical relevance of EMT and drug insensitivity comes from studies showing an association between epithelial markers and sensitivity to erlotinib in NSCLC cell lines, suggesting that EMT-type cells are resistant to erlotinib (7). In particular, recent data suggest that cancer cells with EMT phenotype demonstrate stem cell–like features and strategies reverting EMT could enhance the therapeutic efficacy of EGFR inhibitors (4, 5).

The Hedgehog (Hh) signaling cascade has emerged as an important mediator of cancer development and metastatic progression. The Hh signaling pathway is composed of the ligands sonic, Indian, and desert hedgehog (Shh, Ihh, Dhh, respectively) and the cell surface molecules Patched (PTCH) and Smoothened (SMO). In the absence of Hh ligands, PTCH causes suppression of SMO; however, upon ligand binding to PTCH, SMO protein leads to activation of the transcription factor GLI1, which in turn translocates into the nucleus, leading to the expression of Hh induced genes (8). The Hh signaling pathway is normally active in human embryogenesis and in tissue repair, as well as in cancer stem cell renewal and survival. This pathway is critical for lung development and its aberrant reactivation has been implicated in cellular response to injury and cancer growth (9–11). Indeed, increased Hh signaling has been demonstrated in bronchial epithelial cells exposed to cigarette smoke extraction. In particular, the activation of this pathway happens at an early stage of carcinogenesis when cells acquire the ability to growth in soft agar and as tumors when xenografted in immunocompromised mice. Treatment with Hh inhibitors at this stage can cause complete regression of tumors (12). Overexpression of Hh signaling molecules has been demonstrated in NSCLC compared with adjacent normal lung parenchyma, suggesting an involvement in the pathogenesis of this tumor (13, 14).

Reactivation of the Hh pathway with induction of EMT has been implicated in the carcinogenesis of several cancer types (15). Inhibition of the Hh pathway can reverse EMT and is associated with enhanced tumor sensitivity to cytotoxic agents (16). Recently, upregulation of the Hh pathway has been demonstrated in the NSCLC cell line A549, concomitantly with the acquisition of a TGFβ1-induced EMT phenotype with increased cell motility and invasion (17).

The aim of the present work was to study the role of the Hh signaling pathway as mechanism of resistance to EGFR-TKIs in different models of NSCLC.

 

Activation of Hh signaling pathway in NSCLC cell lines with resistance to EGFR-TKIs

We established an in vitro model of acquired resistance to the EGFR-TKI gefitinib using the EGFR exon 19 deletion mutant (delE746-A750) HCC827 human NSCLC cell line by continuous culturing these cells in the presence of increasing doses of gefitinib. HCC827 cells, which were initially sensitive to gefitinib treatment (in vitro IC50 ∼ 80 nmol/L), became resistant (HCC827-GR cells) after 12 months of continuous treatment with IC50 > 20 μmol/L. This cell line was also cross-resistant to erlotinib and to the irreversible EGFR kinase inhibitor BIBW2992 (afatinib; data not shown). Sequencing of the EGFR gene in gefitinib-resistant HCC827-GR cells showed the absence of EGFRT790M mutation (data not shown). After the establishment of HCC827-GR cells, we characterized their resistant phenotype by protein expression analysis. While the activation of EGFR resulted efficiently inhibited by gefitinib treatment both in HCC827 and in HCC827-GR cells, phosphorylation of AKT and MAPK proteins persisted in HCC827-GR cells despite the inhibition of the upstream EGFR (Fig. 1A).

Figure 1.

Activation of Hh signaling pathway in NSCLC cell lines resistant to EGFR-TKIs. A, Western blot analysis of EGFR and of downstream signaling pathways in parental EGFR-mutated human lung adenocarcinoma HCC827 cells and in their gefitinib-resistant derivative (HCC827-GR). β-Actin was included as a loading control. B, Western blot analysis of Hh pathway, MET, and selected epithelial- and mesenchymal-related proteins in a panel of EGFR-TKI–sensitive (HCC827, H322, and Calu-3) and -resistant (HCC827-GR, H1299, Calu-3 ER, H460) NSCLC cell lines. β -Actin was included as a loading control. C, FISH analysis of gain in MET andSMO gene copy number in HCC827 and HCC827-GR. D, top, GLI-driven luciferase expression in HCC827 and HCC827-GR cells before and after depletion of GLI1 in both cell lines; bottom, evidence of GLI1 mRNA downregulation by siRNA. β-Actin was included as a loading control. E, MTT cell proliferation assays in HCC827-GR and PC9 cancer cell transfected with an empty vector or SMO expression plasmid with the indicated concentrations of gefitinib for 3 days. Bottom, Western blotting for evaluation of SMO after transfection.

HCC827-GR cells exhibited a mesenchymal phenotype with increased ability to invade, to migrate, and to grow in an anchorage-independent manner (Fig. 2A–C). Therefore, we next examined whether HCC827-GR cell line exhibits molecular changes known to occur during the EMT. Indeed, we found expression of vimentin and SLUG proteins and loss of E-cadherin protein expression in gefitinib-resistant cells as compared with gefitinib-sensitive cells (Fig. 1B). Although activation of the AXL kinase and NF-κB (20–22) have been described as known mechanisms of EGFR-TKI resistance, the analysis of their activation status resulted not significantly different among our cell lines. However, further studies are needed to explore a potential cooperation of AXL and NF-κB with Hh signaling.

Figure 2.

Activation of Hh signaling pathway mediates resistance to EGFR-TKIs in EGFR-dependent NSCLC cell lines. A, invasion assay. B, migration assay, C, anchorage-independent colony formation in soft agar. D, cell proliferation measured with the MTT assay in parental human lung adenocarcinoma HCC827 cells and in HCC827-GR derivative. The results are the average ± SD of 3 independent experiments, each done in triplicate.

Recently, expression of Shh and activation of the Hh pathway have been correlated to the TGFβ-induced EMT in A549 lung cancer cells (17). To investigate the expression profile of Hh signaling components in this in vitro model of acquired resistance to anti-EGFR–TKIs, we performed Western blot analysis for Shh, GLI1, 2, 3, SMO, and PTCH in HCC827-GR cells. While Shh levels did not differ between HCC827 and HCC827-GR cells, a significantly increased expression of SMO and GLI1 was found in HCC827-GR cells as compared with parental cells (Fig. 1B). No differences in the levels of GLI2 and 3 were observed (data not shown). Of interest, also PTCH protein levels resulted increased in HCC827-GR cells. This is of relevance, as PTCH is a target gene of GLI1 transcriptional activity and increased PTCH levels indicate activation of Hh signaling. We further analyzed expression and activation of MET, as a known mechanism of acquired resistance to anti-EGFR drugs in NSCLC. Indeed, MET phosphorylation resulted strongly activated in HCC827-GR cells (Fig. 1B). Analysis of the MET ligand levels, HGF, by ELISA assay, did not evidence any significant difference in conditioned media of our cells (data not shown). As previous studies have demonstrated MET gene amplification in NSCLC cell lines with acquired resistance to gefitinib (23), we evaluated MET gene copy number by FISH analysis and D-PCR in HCC827 and in HCC827-GR cell lines. The mean MET gene copy number was similar between gefitinib-sensitive and gefitinib-resistant HCC827 cell line (Fig. 1C).

Of interest, while we were working to these experiments, data on SMO gene amplification in EGFR-mutated NSCLC patients with acquired resistance to anti-EGFR targeted drugs were reported on rebiopsies performed at progression, revealing SMO amplification in 2 of 16 patients (12.5%; ref. 24). For this reason, we evaluated by FISH SMO gene copy number in HCC827-GR cells, in which the mean SMO gene copy number was 4-fold higher than that of parental HCC827 cells, indicating SMO gene amplification (Fig. 1C).

We further analyzed the expression and the activation of these molecules on a larger panel of EGFR-WT NSCLC cell lines, including NSCLC cells sensitive to EGFRTKIs, such as H322 and Calu-3 cells, NSCLC cell lines with intrinsic resistance to EGFR-TKIs, such as H1299 and H460 cells and Calu-3 ER (erlotinib-resistant) cells, which represents an in vitromodel of acquired resistance to erlotinib obtained from Calu-3 cells (refs. 4, 18; Supplementary Table S1). As shown in Fig. 1B, similarly to HCC827-GR cells, the Hh signaling pathway resulted in activation of these NSCLC models of intrinsic or acquired resistance to EGFR-TKI.

To further investigate the presence of specific mutations in the Hh pathway components, we sequenced DNA from our panel of NSCLC cell lines by Ion Torrent NGS; results indicated the absence of specific mutations in Hh-related genes (data not shown).

Because GLI1 is a transcription factor, we tested the functional significance of increased expression of this gene in the EGFR-sensitive and -resistant cell lines, using a GLI1-responsive promoter within a luciferase reporter expression vector (Fig. 1D). Analysis of luciferase activity of HCC827-GR cells revealed a 6- to 7-fold increase in GLI-responsive promoter activity as compared with HCC827 cells (P < 0.001), suggesting that transcriptional activity of GLI1 is significantly higher in gefitinib-resistant HCC827-GR cells. Furthermore, depletion of GLI1 protein expression by transfection with a GLI1-specific siRNA expression vector led to approximately 65% decrease in GLI1-driven promoter activity in HCC827-GR (P < 0.01; Fig. 1D). To determine whether SMO expression may promote resistance to gefitinib, 2 cell lines harboring the mutated EGFR gene, HCC827 and PC9 cells, and the sensitive EGFR-WT cell line Calu-3, were transiently transfected with an SMO expression plasmid. When treated with gefitinib, transfected cells exhibited a partial loss of sensitivity to the EGFR inhibition (Fig. 1E).

Activation of Hh signaling pathway mediates resistance to EGFR-TKIs in EGFR-dependent NSCLC cell lines

As previously mentioned, HCC827-GR cells acquired expression of vimentin and SLUG and loss of E-cadherin when compared with gefitinib-sensitive HCC827 cancer cells along with an increased ability to invade, migrate, and form colonies in semisolid medium (Fig. 2A–C). We next evaluated whether the Hh pathway activation was necessary for gefitinib acquired resistance by genetically or by pharmacologically inhibiting Hh components in the HCC827-GR cell line. Knockdown of GLI1 by a GLI1siRNA approach had a very little effect on HCC827-GR cells. However, when gefitinib treatment (1 μmol/L) was performed in HCC827-GR cells after GLI1 blockade, invasion, migration, and colony-forming capabilities were significantly inhibited (Fig. 2A–C). Next, we evaluated the effects of 2 small-molecule inhibitors of SMO, such as LDE225 and vismodegib. Treatment with LDE225 (1 μmol/L;Fig. 2A–D) or with vismodegib (1 μmol/L; data not shown) alone did not significantly affect the viability and the invasion and migration abilities of HCC827-GR cells. Combined treatment with gefitinib and LDE225 (1 μmol/L) or vismodegib (1 μmol/L) caused inhibition of these parameters in HCC827-GR cells (Fig. 2A–C).

Taken together, these data show that Hh activation is required for acquisition of gefitinib resistance in HCC827-GR cells.

As overexpression and activation of MET was found in HCC827-GR cells, we evaluated whether inhibition of MET phosphorylation by PHA-665752 could restore gefitinib sensitivity in this model. Although abrogation of MET signaling in combination with the inhibition of EGFR signaling marginally affected gefitinib sensitivity of HCC827-GR cells, surprisingly, inhibition of MET synergistically enhanced the effects of Hh inhibition in HCC827-GR cells (Fig. 2A–D) in terms of invasion, migration, colony-forming, and proliferation abilities, indicating a significant synergism between these 2 signaling pathways. The triple inhibition of EGFR, SMO, and MET did not result in any additional antiproliferative effects (data not shown).

Cooperation between Hh and MET signaling pathways in mediating resistance to EGFR-TKI in EGFR-dependent NSCLC cell lines

To study the role of Hh pathway in the regulation of key signaling mediators downstream of the EGFR and to explore the interaction between Hh and MET pathways, we further characterized the effects of Hh inhibition alone and in combination with EGFR or MET inhibitor on the intracellular signaling by Western blotting. As illustrated in Fig. 3A, treatment of HCC827-GR cells with the SMO inhibitor LDE225, gefitinib or with the MET inhibitor PHA-665772, for 72 hours, did not affect total MAPK and AKT protein levels and activation. A marked decrease of the activated form of both proteins was observed only when LDE225 was combined with PHA-665772, at greater level than inhibition of EGFR and MET, suggesting that the Hh pathway cooperates with MET to the activation of both MAPK and AKT signaling pathways. In addition, vimentin expression, induced during the acquisition of gefitinib resistance, was significantly decreased after Hh inhibition, suggesting that the Hh pathway represents a key mediator of EMT in this model. The combination of MET and Hh inhibitors strongly induced cleavage of the 113-kDa PARP to the 89-kDa fragment, indicating an enhanced programmed cell death.

Figure 3.

Cooperation between Hh and MET signaling pathways in mediating resistance to EGFR-TKIs in HCC827-GR cells. A, Western blot analysis of Hh, MET, and EGFR activation and their downstream pathways activation following treatment with the indicated concentration LDE225 and PHA-556752 on HCC827-GR NSCLC cell line. β-Actin was included as a loading control. B, co-immunoprecipitation for the interaction between MET and SMO. Whole-cell extracts from HCC827 and HCC827-GR cells untreated or treated with LDE225 or/and PHA556752 were immunoprecipitated (IP) with anti- SMO (top) or anti-MET (bottom). The immunoprecipitates were subjected to Western blot analysis (WB) with indicated antibodies. Control immunoprecipitation was done using control mouse preimmune serum (PS). C, GLI-driven luciferase expression in HCC827-GR cells during treatment with gefitinib, LDE225, PHA-556752, or their combinations. D, co-immunoprecipitation for the interaction between SUFU and GLI1. Whole-cell extracts from HCC827 and HCC827-GR cells untreated or treated with LDE225 or/and PHA556752 were immunoprecipitated (IP) with anti-GLI1 (top) or anti-SUFU (bottom) antibodies. The immunoprecipitates were subjected to Western blot analysis with indicated antibodies. Control immunoprecipitation was done using control mouse PS.

Of interest, the inhibition of SMO by LDE225 also reduced the activated, phosphorylated form of MET (Fig. 3A), revealing an interaction between SMO and MET receptors. To address this issue, we hypothesized a direct interplay between both receptors. SMO immunoprecipitates from HCC827-GR cells showed greater MET binding than that from the parental HCC827 cells (Fig. 3B). As MET has been demonstrated to interact with HER3 to mediate resistance to EGFR inhibitors (25), we explored the expression of HER3 in SMO immunoprecipitates. Protein expression analysis did not show any association with HER3; similar results were obtained with EGFR protein expression analysis in the immunoprecipitates (data not shown).

The increased SMO/MET heterodimerization observed in HCC827-GR cells was partially reduced by the inhibition of SMO or MET with LDE225 or PHA-665752, respectively, and to a greater extent with the combined treatment (Fig. 3B). These results support the hypothesis that Hh and MET pathways interplay at level of their receptors.

To study whether the cooperation between these 2 pathways appears also at a downstream level, and considering that, as shown in Fig. 3A, MET inhibition partially reduces the levels of GLI1 and PTCH proteins, we analyzed luciferase expression of GLI1 reporter vector in HCC827-GR cells after treatment with LDE225, PHA-665752, or both. As shown in Fig. 3C, transcriptional activity of GLI1 resulted strongly decreased by the combined treatment. In particular, treatment with single-agent LDE225 did not abrogate the transcriptional activity of GLI1 suggesting a GLI1 noncanonical activation. In addition, single-agent PHA-665752 reduced GLI1-dependent signal, suggesting a role for MET in GLI1 regulation. To better investigate these findings, we hypothesized that MET can regulate GLI1 activity through its nuclear translocation. We, therefore, analyzed the binding ability of SUFU, a known cytoplasmic negative regulator of GLI1, following treatment of HCC827-GR cells with LDE225 and/or PHA-665752. Indeed, interaction between SUFU and GLI1 was markedly decreased in HCC827-GR cells as compared with HCC827 cells (Fig. 3D), which further confirmed the role of the activation of Hh pathway in this gefitinib-resistant NSCLC model. Furthermore, while combined treatment with LDE225 and PHA-665752 strongly increased the binding between GLI1 and SUFU, suggesting an inhibitory effect on GLI1 activity, also treatment with the MET inhibitor PHA-665752 alone favored the interaction of GLI1 with SUFU (Fig. 3D), indicating a role of MET on the activation of GLI1. This phenomenon could be a consequence of the decreased interplay between SMO and MET receptors or the effect of a direct regulation of GLI1 by MET.

Effects of the combined treatment with LDE225 and gefitinib or PHA-665752 on HCC827-GR tumor xenografts

We finally investigated the in vivo antitumor activity of Hh inhibition by LDE225, alone and in combination with gefitinib or with the MET inhibitor in nude mice bearing HCC827-GR cells. Treatment with gefitinib, as single agent, did not cause any change in tumor size as compared with control untreated mice, confirming that the in vitro model of gefitinib resistance is valid also in vivo. Treatment with LDE225 or with PHA-665752 as single agents caused a decrease in tumor size even stronger than that observed in vitro, suggesting a major role of these drugs on tumor microenvironment. However, combined treatments, such as LDE225 plus gefitinib or LDE225 plus PHA-665752, significantly suppressed HCC827-GR tumor growth with a major activity of LDE225 plus PHA-665752 combination. Indeed at 21 days from the starting of treatment, the mean tumor volumes in mice bearing HCC827-GR tumor xenografts and treated with LDE225 plus gefitinib or with LDE225 plus PHA-665752 were 24% and 2%, respectively, as compared with control untreated mice (Fig. 4A). Figure 4B shows changes in tumor size from baseline in the 6 groups of treatment. A total of eight mice for each treatment group were considered. Combined treatment of LDE225 plus gefitinib caused objective responses in 5 of 8 mice (62.5%). Of interest, the most active treatment combination was LDE225 plus PHA-665752 with complete responses in 8 of 8 mice (100%).

Figure 4.

Effects of the combined treatment with LDE225 and gefitinib or PHA-665752 on HCC827-GR tumor xenografts. A, athymic nude mice were injected subcutaneously into the dorsal flank with 107 HCC827-GR cancer cells. After 7 to 10 days (average tumor size, 75 mm3), mice were treated as indicated in Materials and Methods for 3 weeks. HCC827-GR xenografted mice received only vehicle (control group), gefitinib (100 mg/kg daily orally by gavage), LDE225 (20 mg/kg intraperitoneally three times a week), PHA-665752 (25 mg/kg intraperitoneally twice a week), or their combination. Data represent the average (±SD). The Student t test was used to compare tumor sizes among different treatment groups at day 21 following the start of treatment. B, waterfall plot representing the change in tumor size from baseline in the 6 groups of treatment. A total of 8 mice for each treatment group were evaluated. C, effects of combined LDE225 and PHA-665752 on expression of MET, PTCH, and vimentin. Tissues were stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E). Representative section from each condition.

We then studied the effects of gefitinib, LDE225, PHA-665752, and their combinations on the expression of PTCH, MET, and vimentin in tumor xenografts biopsies from mice of each group of treatment (Fig. 4C and Supplementary Table S2). We measured PTCH expression, as it represents a direct marker of Hh activation. While vimentin staining was particularly intense in control and gefitinib-treated tumors, treatment with LDE225 alone and in combination with PHA-665752 significantly reduced the intensity of the staining further confirming the role of Hh inhibition on the reversal of mesenchymal phenotype. Of interest, MET immunostaining resulted in a consistent nuclear positivity: this particular localization has been described as a marker of poor outcome and tendency to a mesenchymal phenotype (26). Although the combination of LDE225 and gefitinib resulted in a significant reduction of tumor growth with a concomitant reduction in staining intensity of vimentin, the combination of LDE225 and PHA-665752 was the most effective treatment, with 8 of 8 (100%) mice having a complete response in their tumors. In fact, histologic evaluations of these tumors found only fibrosis and no viable cancer cells. According to Western blot analysis of protein extracts harvested from the HCC827-GR xenograft tumors, the levels of phospho-EGFR, phospho-MET, and GLI1 resulted in a decrease after treatment with the respective inhibitor. Interestingly, the combined treatment with LDE225 and PHA-665752 resulted in a stronger inhibition of phospho-MAPK and phospho-AKT (Supplementary Fig. S1).

Role of the Hh pathway in mediating resistance to EGFR inhibitors in EGFR-WT NSCLC

As shown in Fig. 1B, although H1299, H460, and Calu-3 ER lacked SMO amplification (data not shown), these cells displayed Hh pathway activation. We further conducted luciferase expression analysis that showed a 8- to 9-fold increase in GLI1-dependent promoter activity in these lines as compared with EGFR inhibitor–sensitive H322 and Calu-3 cells, suggesting that transcriptional activity of GLI1 is higher in EGFR-TKI–resistant EGFR-WT NSCLC lines (Supplementary Fig. S2A). Similar to HCC827-GR cells, these cells showed also activation of MET. However, as reported in previous studies (4), MET inhibition alone or in combination with EGFR inhibition or with SMO inhibition resulted ineffective in inhibiting cancer cell proliferation and survival (data not shown).

We therefore tested the effects of Hh inhibition, by silencing GLI1 or by using LDE225, alone and/or in combination with erlotinib. Although knockdown of GLI1 or treatment with LDE225 (1 μmol/L) did not significantly affect NSCLC cell viability, combined treatment with erlotinib restored sensitivity to erlotinib (Supplementary Fig. S2B).

In addition, H1299, Calu-3 ER, and H460 cells exhibited significantly higher invasive and migratory abilities than H322 and Calu-3 cells and inhibition of Hh pathway significantly reduced these abilities. Collectively, these results suggest that Hh pathway activation mediates the acquisition of mesenchymal properties in EGFR-WT lung adenocarcinoma cells with erlotinib resistance (Supplementary Fig. S2B–S2D).

We next evaluated the effects of LDE225 alone and/or in combination with erlotinib on the activation of downstream pathways. Erlotinib treatment result was unable to decrease the phosphorylation levels of AKT and MAPK in H1299 and Calu-3 ER cells (Fig. 5A). However, when LDE225 was combined with erlotinib, a strong inhibition of AKT and MAPK activation was observed in these EGFR inhibitor–resistant cells (Fig. 5A). Furthermore, flow cytometric analysis revealed that combined treatment with both erlotinib and LDE225 significantly enhanced the apoptotic cell percentage to 65% and 70% (P < 0.001) in H1299 and Calu-3 ER cells, respectively (Fig. 5B), confirmed by the induction of PARP cleavage after the combined treatment (Fig. 5A). These findings suggest that Hh pathway drives proliferation and survival signals in NSCLC cells in which EGFR is blocked by erlotinib, and only the inhibition of both pathways can induce strong antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects. The in vitro synergism between EGFR and SMO was confirmed alsoin vivo. Combination of erlotinib and LDE225 significantly suppressed growth of Calu-3 ER xenografted tumors in nude mice (Supplementary Fig. S1F).

Figure 5.

Activation of Hh signaling pathway mediates resistance to EGFR-TKI in EGFR-WT NSCLC cell lines. A, Western blot analysis of EGFR and its downstream pathways activation, including PARP cleaved form, following treatment with the indicated concentration LDE225 and erlotinib on Calu-3, Calu-3 ER, and H1299 NSCLC cell line. β-Actin was included as a loading control. B, apoptosis was evaluated as described in Supplementary Materials and Methods with annexin V staining in Calu-3, Calu-3-GR, and H1299 cancer cells, which were treated with the indicated concentration LDE225 and erlotinib. Columns, mean of 3 identical wells of a single representative experiment; bars, top 95% confidence interval; ***, P < 0.001 for comparisons between cells treated with drug combination and cells treated with single agent.

Hh pathway inhibition sensitizes EGFR-WT NSCLC cell lines to standard chemotherapy

To extend our preclinical observations, we further investigated the effects of Hh pathway inhibition on sensitivity of EGFR-WT NSCLC cells to standard chemotherapy used in this setting and mostly represented by cisplatin.

To investigate the role of the Hh pathway in mediating resistance also to chemotherapy, we evaluated the efficacy of cisplatin and Hh inhibition treatment alone or in combination on the colony-forming ability in semisolid medium of H1299 and H460 cell lines (Fig. 6). Treatment with cisplatin alone resulted in a dose-dependent inhibition of colony formation with an IC50 value of 13 and 11 μmol/L for H1299 and H460 cells, respectively. However, when combined with LDE225, the treatment resulted in a significant synergistic antiproliferative effect in both NSCLC cell lines (Fig. 6). Together, these results indicate that treatment of EGFR-WT NSCLC cells with Hh inhibitors could improve sensitivity of NSCLCs to standard chemotherapy.

Figure 6.

Hh pathway inhibition sensitizes EGFR-WT NSCLC cell lines to standard chemotherapy. Anchorage-independent colony formation in soft agar in human lung adenocarcinoma H1299 and H460. The results are the average ± SD of 3 independent experiments, each done in triplicate. For defining the effect of the combined drug treatments, any potentiation was estimated by multiplying the percentage of cells remaining by each individual agent. The synergistic index was calculated as previously described (19). In the following equations, A and B are the effects of each individual agent and AB is the effect of the combination. Subadditivity was defined as %AB/(%A%B) < 0.9; additivity was defined as %AB/(%A%B) = 0.9–1.0; and supra-additivity was defined as %AB/(%A%B) > 1.0.

Discussion

Resistance to currently available anticancer drugs represents a major clinical challenge for the treatment of patients with advanced NSCLC. Our previous works (4, 18) reported that whereas EGFR-TKI–sensitive NSCLC cell lines express the well-established epithelial markers, cancer cell lines with intrinsic or acquired resistance to anti-EGFR drugs express mesenchymal characteristics, including the expression of vimentin and a fibroblastic scattered morphology. This transition plays a critical role in tumor invasion, metastatic dissemination, and the acquisition of resistance to therapies such as EGFR inhibitors. Among the various molecular pathways, the Hh signaling cascade has emerged as an important mediator of cancer development and progression (8). The Hh signaling pathway is active in human embryogenesis and tissue repair in cancer stem cell renewal and survival and is critical for lung development. Its aberrant reactivation has been implicated in cellular response to injury and cancer growth (9–11). Indeed, increased Hh signaling has been demonstrated by cigarette smoke extraction exposure in bronchial epithelial cells (12). In particular, the activation of this pathway correlated with the ability to growth in soft agar and in mice as xenograft and treatment with Hh inhibitors showed regression of tumors at this stage (12). Overexpression of Hh signaling molecules has been demonstrated in NSCLC compared with adjacent normal lung parenchyma, suggesting an involvement in the pathogenesis of this tumor (13, 14).

Recently, alterations of the SMO gene (mutation, amplification, mRNA overexpression) were found in 12.2% of tumors of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) lung adenocarcinomas by whole-exome sequencing (27). The incidence of SMO mutations was 2.6% and SMO gene amplifications were found in 5% of cases. SMO mutations and amplification strongly correlated with SHH gene dysregulation (P < 0.0001). In a small case report series, 3 patients with NSCLC with Hh pathway activation had been treated with the SMO inhibitor LDE225 with a significant reduction in tumor burden, suggesting that Hh pathway alterations occur in NSCLC and could be an actionable and valuable therapeutic target (27). Recently, upregulation of Shh, both at the mRNA and at the protein levels, was demonstrated in the A549 NSCLC cell line, concomitantly with the acquisition of a TGFβ1-induced EMT phenotype (17, 28, 29) and mediated increased cell motility, invasion, and tumor cell aggressiveness (30, 31).

In the present study, SMO gene amplification has been identified for the first time as a novel mechanism of acquired resistance to EGFR-TKI in EGFR-mutant HCC827-GR NSCLC cells. These data are in agreement with the results of a cohort of patients with EGFR-mutant NSCLC that were treated with EGFR-TKIs (24). Giannikopoulus and colleagues have demonstrated the presence of SMO gene amplification in tumor biopsies taken at occurrence of resistance to EGFR-TKIs in 2 of 16 patients (24). In both cases, theMET gene was also amplified. In this respect, although the MET gene was not amplified in HCC827-GR cells, we found a significant functional and structural interaction between MET and Hh pathways in these cells. In fact, the combined inhibition of both SMO and MET exerted a significant antiproliferative and proapoptotic effect in this model, demonstrated by tumor regressions with complete response in 100% of HCC827-GR tumors xenografted in nude mice.

Several MET inhibitors have been evaluated in phase II/III clinical studies in patients with NSCLC, with controversial results. Most probably, blocking MET receptor alone is not enough to revert the resistant phenotype, as it is implicated in several intracellular interactions, and the best way to overcome resistance to anti-EGFR-TKIs is a combined approach, with Hh pathway inhibitors.

In the context of EMT, Zhang and colleagues demonstrated that AXL activation drives resistance in erlotinib-resistant subclones derived from HCC827, independently from MET activation in the same subclone, and that its inhibition is sufficient to restore erlotinib sensitivity by inhibiting downstream signal MAPK, AKT, and NF-κB (21). In addition, Bivona and colleagues described in 3 HCC827 erlotinib-resistant subclones increased RELA phosphorylation, a marker of NF-κB activation, in the absence of MET upregulation, and demonstrated that NF-κB inhibition enhanced erlotinib sensitivity, independently from AKT or MAPK inhibition (22). Differently, we detected Hh and MET hyperactivation in our resistance model HCC827-GR without a clear increase in AXL and NF-κB activation.

Although the level of activation of AXL and NF-κB did not result in contribution to resistance in our model, further studies are needed to explore a potential cooperation of AXL and NF-κB with Hh signaling.

In a preclinical model, the evolution of resistance can depend strictly from the selective activation of specific pathways, whereas different mechanisms can occur simultaneously in patients with NSCLC, due to tumor heterogeneity. Thus, all data regarding EFGFR-TKIs resistance have to be considered equally valid.

We further extended the evaluation of the Hh pathway to NSCLC cell lines harboring the wild-type EGFR gene and demonstrated that Hh is selectively activated in NSCLC cells with intrinsic or acquired resistance to EGFR inhibition and occurred in the context of EMT.

To further validate these data, we blocked SMO or downregulated GLI1 RNA expression in NSCLC cells that had undergone EMT, and this resulted in resensitization of NSCLC cells to erlotinib and loss of vimentin expression, indicating an mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition promoted by the combined inhibition of EGFR and Hh. Inhibition of the Hh pathway alone was not sufficient to reverse drug resistance but required concomitant EGFR inhibition to block AKT and MAPK activation and to restore apoptosis, indicating that the prosurvival PI3K/AKT pathway and the mitogenic RAS/RAF/MEK/MAPK pathways likely represent the level of interaction of EGFR and Hh signals.

In EGFR-WT NSCLC models, the role of MET amplification/activation is less clear, and in our experience, its inhibition did not increase the antitumor activity of SMO inhibitors.

In addition, Hh inhibition contributed to increase the response to cisplatin treatment which is the standard chemotherapeutic option used in EGFR-WT NSCLC patients and in EGFR-mutated patients after progression on first-line EGFR-TKI, thus representing a valid contribution to achieve a better disease control in those patients without oncogenic activation or after progression on molecularly targeted agents.

Collectively, the results of the present study provide experimental evidence that activation of the Hh pathway, through SMO amplification, is a potential novel mechanism of acquired resistance in EGFR-mutated NSCLC patients that occurs concomitantly with MET activation, and the combined inhibition of these 2 pathways exerts a significant antitumor activity. In light of these results, screening of SMO alteration is strongly recommended in EGFR-mutated NSCLC patients with acquired resistance to EGFR-TKIs at first progression.

 

Early-stage lung cancer patients considered to be high risk for surgery can achieve good clinical outcomes with surgical resection, according to a new study.

Pembrolizumab, a PD-1 inhibitor, demonstrated better overall survival and progression-free survival vs docetaxel in non–small-cell lung cancer patients.

A study looking at trends from 1985 to 2005 found that overall survival has increased in Medicare patients with small-cell lung cancer, and that treatment with chemotherapy is associated with improved survival.

Patients with ALK-rearranged non–small-cell lung cancer and brain metastases survive longer when treated with radiotherapy and tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

– See more at: http://www.cancernetwork.com/lung-cancer

 

Pembrolizumab Offers Survival Benefit in NSCLC

http://www.cancernetwork.com/lung-cancer/pembrolizumab-offers-survival-benefit-nsclc

The maker of pembrolizumab, a programmed death 1 (PD-1) inhibitor (Keytruda; Merck), announced phase II/III trial results showing that the drug resulted in better overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS) compared with docetaxel in patients with non–small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The study included only patients who had failed prior systemic therapy and whose tumors expressed programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1). – See more at: http://www.cancernetwork.com/lung-cancer/pembrolizumab-offers-survival-benefit-nsclc#sthash.NUIqYKmi.dpuf

“The results from this trial provide part of a growing body of evidence supporting the potential of Keytruda in the treatment of NSCLC,” said Merck’s president, Roger M. Perlmutter, MD, PhD, in a press release.

The KEYNOTE-010 trial results have not yet been presented or published. The study compared two doses of pembrolizumab (2 mg/kg and 10 mg/kg) with docetaxel in 1,034 patients. All had progressed following treatment with platinum-containing systemic therapy, and all had tumors expressing PD-L1.

According to Merck’s release, pembrolizumab was associated with longer OS, in both the 2-mg/kg and 10-mg/kg dose groups, compared with docetaxel. This survival benefit was seen both in a subgroup of patients with PD-L1 expression tumor proportion scores of 50% or higher, as well as in all enrolled patients (all had a score of 1% or higher).

Both doses also resulted in longer PFS vs docetaxel in the 50% or higher group; this was not statistically significant in the full cohort of patients.

Pembrolizumab received an accelerated approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in early October (at the 2-mg/kg dose level). The FDA noted in a press release that the most common side effects in a safety cohort of 550 patients included fatigue, dyspnea, and decreased appetite.

Earlier this year, results of a phase I study of pembrolizumab yielded promising survival outcomes. The median OS in that cohort of 495 patients was 12.0 months, and there was an overall response rate to the drug of 19.4%; this was higher in patients who had not received any previous treatment.

Pembrolizumab is not the first immunotherapy agent approved for the treatment of NSCLC. The FDA granted approval to nivolumab (Opdivo; Bristol-Myers Squibb) for the treatment of metastatic squamous NSCLC in March, and the indication was expanded to advanced non-squamous NSCLC in October.

– See more at: http://www.cancernetwork.com/lung-cancer/pembrolizumab-offers-survival-benefit-nsclc#sthash.NUIqYKmi.dpuf

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