Immunotherapy: Studies with Neuroendocrine Neoplasms

CAR T-cell therapy, SEM

Headline in April 2019:

Update from 2019 AACR Annual Meeting

A combination of two common immunotherapy drugs shrinks rare, aggressive neuroendocrine tumors, according to new research results presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2019, held March 29-April 3 in Atlanta“.  See below under section: – Nivolumab (Opdiva) and Ipilimumab (Yervoy) in Treating Patients With High  Grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma

Immunotherapy for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms

There’s a lot of Immunotherapy stuff out there! However, I also wanted to break it down and perhaps see if I can pick up the what, when, why, where and how in regards to Neuroendocrine Cancer. It’s really difficult, not least because the picture is not clear and there is no general roadmap printed, let alone one for Neuroendocrine disease. Immunotherapy for NETs was discussed at ENETS 2017 in Barcelona. The presentation that sticks out was one given by Dr Matthew Kulke, a well-known NET Specialist in Boston. My reaction to the presentation was one of ‘expectation management’ and caution i.e. it’s too soon to know if we will get any success and when we will get it. He also hinted that it’s more likely that any success will first be seen in poorly differentiated high-grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma (NEC). Dr Jonathan Strosberg also said similar in a post here. In fact, from below you will see that grade 3 poorly differentiated is where the bulk of trial activity is (…..but read on, there is some action around plain old well differentiated NETs).  You will also see that there are disappointing results so far with single agent Keytruda.

Retain hope but just be cautious with some of the hype surrounding Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is exciting, but we also need to be aware of the risks of taking the brakes off the immune system. We have seen and heard more and more stories about people with grim cancer diagnoses who became cancer-free after treatment with immunotherapy. This offers hope to those with cancer, but we need to be cautious when discussing immunotherapy. This treatment method is still new, and the cancer community is still learning about how it affects the body. An unfettered immune system may end up attacking healthy, functioning parts of a person’s body, causing unpredictable side effects that may be life-threatening EVEN if not treated early.

For those considering a trial, I think it’s worth spending some time reading this article from Cancer.NET – Doctor Approved Patient Information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology – “What You Need to Know About Immunotherapy Side Effects“.

For Neuroendocrine Neoplasms, only Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the skin (Merkel Cell Carcinoma) and Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) has an approved drug (see below). Anything else is currently an experimental scenario (clinical trial). Before launching into what is out for with an interest in NET and NEC, it’s worth pointing out that Immunotherapy is not for everyone, does not work for everyone, and has side effects for everyone.

Let’s start with Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)?

‘Pembrolizumab’ is more famously known as ‘Keytruda‘. This drug crops up everywhere and it has connections to many different cancers. Before I talk about this trial called PLANET, it’s very useful to take a quick look at the history of Keytruda which was only really made famous after former US President Jimmy Carter was treated with it for metastatic melanoma. There was a lot of media hype surrounding what made his treatment successful as he was also given radiation for his brain tumours and his large liver tumour was removed by surgery. However, putting the hype and conjecture to one side, Keytruda’s CV is pretty impressive. Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) is currently approved to treat certain scenarios in Hodgkin lymphoma, Melanoma, Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, Urothelial carcinoma, Microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) related cancers (a very interesting development as it’s the US FDA’s very first approval on a tissue/site agnostic basis).

However, despite this excelent record, it’s worth also noting that NANETS 2018 reported limited use of Keytruda (see below) as a single agent to treat high grade Neuroendocrine Neoplasms.

Other approvals are anticipated.

So what about Neuroendocrine Neoplasms?

Approvals:

FDA granted accelerated approval to Avelumab (BAVENCIO) for the treatment of patients 12 years and older with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). MCC is a Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the skin. Avelumab is a programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) blocking human IgG1 lambda monoclonal antibody. This is the first FDA-approved product to treat this type of cancer – CLICK HERE for more information.

In Aug 2018, the FDA granted Nivolumab (OPDIVO) accelerated approval for third-line treatment of metastatic small cell lung cancer (a type of Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. Read more – click here.

In Dec 2018, US FDA approves pembrolizumab for adult and pediatric patients with recurrent locally advanced or metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). Click here.

On March 18, 2019, the FDA approved Atezolizumab (TECENTRIQ) in combination with carboplatin and etoposide, for the first-line treatment of adult patients with extensive-stage small cell lung cancer (ES-SCLC). Click here.

Clinical Trials:

I found the following trials for high-grade NEC:

  • currently recruiting Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for the Treatment of Recurrent High Grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma (Pembro NEC)
  • currently recruiting A Study of Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in Patients With Neuroendocrine Tumors
  • currently recruiting Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) – based Therapy in Previously Treated High Grade Neuroendocrine Carcinomas
  • This trial is interesting. Nivolumab (Opdiva) and Ipilimumab (Yervoy) in Treating Patients With High Grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma It’s a multiple cancer setup and includes several of the less common NET/NEC types including ‘Lung Carcinoid’, ‘Anal NEC’, ‘Gastic NEC’, ‘Pancreatic NEC’ ‘Esophageal NEC. Interesting because this is the drug combo that NEC patient Danielle Tindle has moved onto after Keytruda didn’t really work in the medium to long-term (see the Danielle Tindle story below). Looking at the list in the trial document, I’m thinking they might mean high-grade Lung Neuroendocrine rather than ‘carcinoid’. I could be wrong. It’s currently recruiting.

    Update from 2019 AACR Annual Meeting.

    The immune checkpoint inhibitor combination of nivolumab (Opdivo) and ipilimumab (Yervoy) induced a greater than 40% response rate and was well tolerated in patients with high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma, according to findings from the phase II DART trial presented at the 2019 AACR Annual Meeting.

    “DART is the first NCI-funded rare tumor immunotherapy basket study which we think is unique in its design scale,” lead author Sandip Patel MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, said in a press briefing at the meeting. “We’re studying over 37 rare tumor types [using the] combination of ipilimumab plus nivolumab. The neuroendocrine cohort, the nonpancreatic cohort, had promising signs of benefit—[particularly] in patients with high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma—independent to primary site,” added Patel.

    See clinical trial document NCT02834013
    See announcement of trial data – click here

  • I also have some evidence of the use of Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) by an Australian high-grade thymus patient – I posted something here (Danielle Tindle)
  • PDR001 (Spartalizamab) – see below.

UPDATE from NANETS 2018. “A preliminary trial of checkpoint blockade for neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) produced little evidence of activity, according to data reported here. Only one of 21 patients with high-grade NETs responded to treatment with pembrolizumab (Keytruda). Three others had stable disease. The trial had an objective response threshold of 5% as the definition of clinically interesting, as reported at the North American Neuroendocrine Tumor Society annual symposium. “Pembrolizumab, though generally well tolerated, showed limited activity as a single agent in high-grade neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) in this study,” Arvind Dasari, MD, of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and colleagues concluded.” More info.

Update from Gastrointestinal Tumor symposium 2019.  “Disappointing results for single agent pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in well differentiated NET. Response Rate 3.7%. Not a viable option.  Listen to Dr Jonathan Strosberg describe the poor results. Click here.

SPARTALIZUMAB (PDR001)

This is an interesting trial sponsored by Novartis (of Octreotide fame). PDR001 (anti-PD-1) is an investigational immunotherapy being developed by Novartis to treat both solid tumors and lymphomas (cancers of the blood).  It is currently being trialled on many cancers including Neuroendocrine Neoplasms both well and poorly differentiated.  Click here: Clinical Trial SPARTALIZUMAB – Immunotherapy for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms (PDR001)

NET Research Foundation

Please also see the wonderful work done by NET Research Foundation who are using their funds to explore the use of Immunotherapy in NETs – check out their update by clicking here.

But what about just plain old well differentiated low or moderate grade NETs?

I found the following:

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in combination with Lanreotide

According to the trial documentation, it’s for patients with non-resectable, recurrent, or metastatic well or moderately (sic) differentiated gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (GEP-NETs). i.e. most of us. It is recruiting. You can read about the PLANET trial by clicking here. Make sure you fully check the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Please note the incorrect reference to ‘moderately differentiated’ – this is no longer used in the grading classification for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms.

Study of Pembrolizumab in Participants With Advanced Solid Tumors (MK-3475-028/KEYNOTE-28) – NCT03054806 and another called ‘A Clinical Trial of Pembrolizumab (MK-3475) Evaluating Predictive Biomarkers in Subjects With Advanced Solid Tumors’ (KEYNOTE 158) NCT02628067

From Gastrointestinal Tumor symposium 2019.  “Disappointing results for single agent pembrolizumab in Well Differentiated NET. Response Rate 3.7%. Not a viable optionListen to Dr Jonathan Strosberg describe the poor results. Click here

Study for the Evaluation of Pembrorolizumab (MK-3475) in Patients with Rare Tumors (Experimental: Paraganglioma-Pheochromocytoma Group)

It is not known if this part of the trial is affected by the results above in Keynote-28. This study is recruiting at MD Andersen Houston Texas. Read more here.

PDR001 (Spartalizamab) -a Novartis drug – read about this trial click here.

Atezolizumab and Bevacizumab in Solid Tumors

In 2016, US FDA approved Atezolizumab (TECENTRIQ) for the treatment of patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Bevacizumab (also known as AVISTAN) is a well known drug already used to treat many cancers. Avastin is not actually Immunotherapy but is a tumor-starving (anti-angiogenic) therapy, i.e. its purpose is to prevent the growth of new blood vessels …. ergo this is a combo treatment using an Immunotherapy drug and an anti-angiogenic drug.

Criteria:

  • Well differentiated Neuroendocrine tumors, Grade 1 or grade 2 according to reviewing pathologist
  • Progressive disease over the preceding 12 months
  • Any number of prior therapies
  • Patients using a somatostatin analogue for symptom control must be on stable doses for 56 days prior to enrolment.

According to the trial documenation, there are two ‘baskets’ of types: Pancreatic NET (pNET) and “extrapancreatic” (i.e. beyond or not in the pancreas) including typical or atypical Lung NETs. Merkel Cell Carcinoma (a type of Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the skin) is also included in the trial. You can read about this trial by clicking here. Make sure you fully check the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Again, within the trial documentation, please note the incorrect reference to ‘moderately differentiated’ – this is no longer used in the grading classification for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms.

By the way, what exactly does Immunotherapy do?

For those still wondering what cancer immunotherapy actually is, this is the most basic description I could find!

Immunotherapy – Hype or Hope?

I mentioned above that there was a lot of hype surrounding Keytruda and other immunotherapy treatments. You may therefore enjoy this CNN article about the hype and hope aspect, it was given considerable sharing at ASCO17 – read the article by clicking here

If you’re on an Immunotherapy trial not listed here, please let me now so I can update the post. Thanks in advance.

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!



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Chemo or not Chemo – that is the question 


I’m continually seeing certain drugs for treatment of Neuroendocrine Tumours (NETs) described as chemotherapy. I think there must be some confusion with more modern drugs which are more targeted and work in a different way to Chemotherapy.

I researched several sites and they all tend to provide a summary of chemotherapy which is worded like this:  Chemotherapy means:

a treatment of cancer by using anti-cancer medicines called cytotoxic drugs.  Cytotoxic medicines are poisonous (toxic) to cancer cells. They kill cancer cells or stop them from multiplying. Different cytotoxic medicines do this in different ways. However, they all tend to work by interfering with some aspect of how the cells divide and multiply. Two or more cytotoxic medicines are often used in a course of chemotherapy, each with a different way of working. This may give a better chance of success than using only one. There are many different cytotoxic medicines used in the treatment of cancer. In each case the one (or ones) chosen will depend on the type and stage of your cancer. Interestingly, there are several statements along the lines of ‘Cytotoxic medicines work best in cancers where the cancer cells are rapidly dividing and multiplying’, a key issue with lower grade NETs.

Well known chemotherapy treatments for NETs include (but are not limited to): Capecitabine (Xeloda), Temozolomide (Temodal), Fluorouracil (5-FU), Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin) Cisplatin, Etoposide (Etopophos, Vepesid), Carboplatin, Streptozotocin (Zanosar). Some of these may be given as a combination treatment, e.g. CAPecitabine and TEMozolomide (CAPTEM).

In the past, any medication used to treat cancer was regarded as chemotherapy. However, over the last 20 years, new types of medication that work in a different way to chemotherapy have been introduced. Many of these new types of medication are known as targeted therapies. This is because they’re designed to target and disrupt one or more of the biological processes that cancerous cells use to grow and reproduce.  They are classed as biological therapy.  In contrast, chemotherapy medications are mostly systemic in nature and designed to have a poisonous effect on cancerous cells, thus the term ‘cytotoxic’.

The following well known NETs treatment are not really chemotherapy and describing them in this way is not only misleading but may actually cause alarm to other patients. Furthermore, if you check any authoritative NET Cancer specialist or advocate organisation; any general and authoritative cancer site or the manufacturer’s websites; you will not see the drugs below listed within the term chemotherapy.

Somatostatin Analogues e.g. Sandostatin (Octreotide), Somatuline (Lanreotide).  Although these drugs have an anti-cancer effect for some, they are in fact hormone inhibitors and are therefore a hormone therapy.

Everolimus (Afinitor).  This is a targeted biological therapy or more accurate a mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitor. It is a type of treatment called a signal transduction inhibitor. Signal transduction inhibitors stop some of the signals within cells that make them grow and divide. Everolimus stops a particular protein called mTOR from working properly. mTOR controls other proteins that trigger cancer cells to grow. So everolimus helps to stop the cancer growing or may slow it down.

Sunitinib (Sutent).  This is a targeted biological therapy or more accurate a protein (or tyrosine) kinase inhibitor. Protein kinase is a type of chemical messenger (an enzyme) that plays a part in the growth of cancer cells. Sunitinib blocks the protein kinase to stop the cancer growing. It can stop the growth of a tumour or shrink it down.

I can only speculate why some of the confusion exists but I do have some personal experience I can quote too. Firstly I believe it could be easier for some people to describe the new agents as ‘chemotherapy’ rather than explain things such as somatostatin analogues, ‘mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors’, protein kinase inhibitor or angiogenesis inhibitors. Another reason could be that health insurance companies do not have the correct database structures in place on their IT systems and therefore need to ‘pigeon hole’ drugs into the closest category they can see. Often this is chemotherapy and this only adds to the confusion. In the days when I had health insurance, my Lanreotide injections were coded as chemotherapy on all my bills. I challenged it and this is how they explained the issue.

I’m sure there’s other reasons.

Thanks for reading

Ronny

I’m also active on Facebook.  Like my page for even more news.  I’m also building up this site here: Ronny Allan

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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!

Chemotherapy for Neuroendocrine Cancer


Chemotherapy and Neuroendocrine Cancer

One of the unusual aspects of Neuroendocrine Cancer is that chemotherapy is not normally considered as a ‘standard’ treatment unlike many other cancers. One exception is high grade (Grade 3) where it is often a first and/or second line therapy.  Poorly differentiated Neuroendocrine disease is normally labelled as Neuroendocrine Carcinoma (NEC) but worth pointing out there is now a Grade 3 well differentiated classification known as a ‘Grade 3 NET’ rather than Grade 3 NEC. Depending on Ki67 score, there could be differing treatment options for Grade 3 NET and Grade 3 NEC.  Read more in my articles Staging and Grading and High Grade.

Many people think Chemotherapy has a short life span due to recent advances in medical science, some citing Immunotherapy as it’s replacement. However, it’s far too early to write off chemotherapy which is still used in many scenarios and remains a tool in the arsenal of cancer treatments and is predicted to do for some time yet.  See more informed reporting about this below.

Which Chemo for which Neuroendocrine Cancer type and grade/differentiation? 

The type of chemo or the combination of different treatments will often depend on the tumour type and anatomical location involved but may include (but not limited to): Capecitabine (Xeloda), Temozolomide (Temodal), Fluorouracil (5-FU), Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin) Cisplatin, Etoposide (Etopophos, Vepesid), Carboplatin, Streptozotocin (Zanosar). Some of these may be given as a combination treatment, e.g. CAPecitabine and TEMozolomide (CAPTEM). many as a combo treatment.  There is a useful article explaining the role of Ki-67 in determining optimal chemotherapy in high grade neuroendocrine tumors.

Cytotoxic chemotherapy is often inadequate for treatment of Grade 1 and 2 (well differentiated) Neuroendocrine tumours which have a low proliferation index. Chemotherapy does not appear to like their slow cytokinetic growth. However,  it tends to work better on certain parts of the anatomy than others, e.g. pancreatic NETs and Lung NETs.  Of interest is a statistic from NET Research Foundation indicating that 23% of patients who were to be prescribed chemo had their treatment changed to a non-chemo option following a Ga68 PET scan.  Read more here.

For second line therapy (including for well differentiated NETs where other conventional treatments are not working), chemo may be given.  These include (but not limited to) Capecitabine, Temozolomide, Bevacizumab, Xelox, Folfox.  There are other specialist chemos for Mixed Neuroendocrine Non-Neuroendocrine Neoplasms (MiNEN).

‘Horses for Courses’ – Chemo is sometimes used for well differentiated lower grade NETs.

There’s a myth that circulates the NET patient forums along the lines of “chemotherapy does not work for NETs“.  That’s not entirely true but most will not get chemotherapy and this can often lead to confusion in those with Stage 4 cancer when asked by others why they are not receiving chemo.

Capecitabine plus Temozolomide (CAPTEM for short) is fast becoming the standarad chemotherapy treatment when it is required with certain lower grade NETs.  Dr Robert Fine says the results of the CAPTEM trial showed “tremendous responses in every neuroendocrine tumor”. The treatment elicited a response rate of 45% and a stable disease rate of 52% including those with certain types of NETs and pituitary tumours – types of neuroendocrine tumour that are notoriously ‘chemoresistant’.  You can read more about this here (click here) and you can also listen to Dr Fine talking about this on a short You Tube video clip – (click here).  Clearly it’s true that it’s not going to work for all.

Other CAPTEM Resources:

  • There’s a very interesting report on the use of CAPTEM in NETs – (click here)
  • CAPTEM Trial Document – (click here)

PRRT and Chemo Combo Treatment

In Australia, they’re also using a combo treatment of chemo (CAPTEM) and PRRT – I blogged about this click here.

“Chinese Dumplings”

There’s also a useful surgical technique which includes the use of intra-operative chemo, known as “Chinese Dumplings” – I wrote about this click here.

Chemo Embolisation

My Oncologist did mention Chemotherapy on my initial meeting, that was a shock and realisation I had something serious.  However, that never transpired but I was once scheduled to have a chemo-embolisation (or TACE, Trans-arterial Chemo Embolisation). Clearly TACE is more targeted than conventional and generally systemic chemotherapy techniques. Perhaps that my Oncologist actually meant.  The chemo-embolisation never transpired either (long story).

Chemotherapy vs Targeted Biological Agents and Somatostatin Analogues

I often see people describing Somatostatin Analogues (Lanreotide/Octreotide), Afinitor (Everolimus) and Sutent (Sunitinib) as chemo but that’s isn’t technically correct, and I’ve yet to find a NET Specialist or a NET Specialist Organisation who classifies these drugs as chemo.  See my article “Chemo or not Chemo” (click here).

Future of Chemo?

A lot is written about how much longer chemo will be around.  It gets a bad press – I suspect mainly due to the side effects.  There are suggestions that it will eventually be replaced by Immunotherapy and other treatments downstream.  However, immunotherapy is really still in its infancy and there remains a lack of long term data on success rates and side effects.  I suspect chemo will be around for a while longer, particularly for cancers where it has a track record of curing according to ASCO.  Very recently (June 2018), cancer experts said that chemo will be around for a long time yet – read more here

None of the content of this post should be interpreted as advice or a  recommendation for chemotherapy. If in doubt about suitability for any form of chemo, or the type you have been prescribed, patients should seek the advice of their treating doctor or NET specialist.

Thanks for reading

Ronny

I’m also active on Facebook.  Like my page for even more news.  I’m also building up this site here: Ronny Allan

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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!

patients included
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