I’ve posted extensively about Oncolytic virus trials, focused on the ongoing Neuroendocrine Cancer trial in Uppsala Sweden. I wanted to incorporate this information into a single article ready for future news, whilst at the same time updating you on further developments in the field of Oncolytic Viruses for Neuroendocrine Cancer. The excitement of the Uppsala work has dampened in recent years, not helped by the fact that one of the first patients unfortunately died. In the absence of any news, I suspect there has been no real progress and/or the funding has run out.
What exactly are Oncolytic Viruses?
Oncolytic Viruses infects and breaks down cancer cells but not normal cells. Oncolytic viruses can occur naturally or can be made in the laboratory by changing other viruses. Certain oncolytic viruses are being studied in the treatment of cancer. Some scientists say they are another type of immunotherapy whilst others say it’s too early to classify as such. The good news is that Neuroendocrine Cancer seems to figure in this work with two of these viruses apparently working on mice to date. Listed below are two active projects involving NETs, one directly and one indirectly.
I’ll briefly describe what’s happening and then you can link to my Facebook article if you need more background.
The trial is called AdVince after Vince Hamilton who funded it. Unfortunately he died before he saw any output but his forward thinking and benevolence lives on and might hopefully help NET patients in the longer term. It’s quite a small trial and is being conducted in Uppsala University Sweden, a famous European NET Centre of Excellence and where many people from across the world attend to take advantage of PRRT availability and experience and is home to famous NET specialist Kjell Öberg, MD, PhD, a professor of endocrine oncology.
A Swedish man (Jan-Erik Jannsson) was the first to get the virus to their cancer (NETs) using a genetically modified virus.
Unfortunately, I was given the news from a source close to the trial that Jan died last year of pneumonia. I have no evidence to suggest his death is in anyway connected to the trial but I’m told he was an ill man prior to the trial commencing. I have therefore dedicated this post to him. RIP Jan.
The initial data presented by the trial indicated that AdVince can be safely evaluated in a phase I/IIa clinical trial for patients with liver-dominant NET. The last I heard from the trial is that they are trying to recruit a further 12 patients to Phase IIa (the trial document allows for up to 36).
Read more background on my Facebook post here: Click here
The trial document on Clinical Trials Website: Click here
This is an oncolytic viral therapy currently in phase III and phase Ib/II clinical trials for use against primary liver (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) and Colorectal cancers, respectively. Pexa-Vec is a weakened (or attenuated) virus that is based on a vaccine used in the eradication of smallpox. The modified virus is injected directly into the cancer tumour, to grow inside these rapidly growing cancer cells and hopefully kill them.
According to the Colorectal Clinical Trial, the aim of the study is to evaluate whether the anti-tumor immunity induced by Pexa-Vec oncolytic viral therapy can be enhanced by immune checkpoint inhibition i.e. they are testing it in conjunction with Immunotherapy drugs (in the case of Colorectal, Durvalumab, and a combination of Durvalumab and Tremelimumab).
The Hepatocellular Carcinoma trial (Phocus) is at Phase III where the sponsors are evaluating Pexa-Vec to determine if it can slow the progression of advanced liver cancer and improve quality of life. I can other trials appearing such as this one for Colorectal Cancer and this one for any solid tumour type.
The work is a collaboration forged between University of California San Francisco (UCSF) vascular researcher Donald McDonald, MD, PhD, and researchers at San Francisco-based biotech SillaJen Biotherapeutics Inc. (formerly Jennerex Biotherapeutics, Inc.), a subsidiary of SillaJen, Inc., headquartered in Korea.
So what’s the Neuroendocrine Connection with Pexa-Vec?
As part of the research, McDonald’s lab injected it intravenously into mice genetically modified to develop pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. They found that the virus failed to infect healthy organs or make the animals ill, but succeeded in infecting blood vessels within tumors. These initial infections caused the vessels to leak and expose the tumor cells to the virus. In these experiments, the virus managed to infect and destroy only a small proportion of tumor cells directly, the researchers found, but within five days of the initial infection, the rest of the tumor began to be killed by a powerful immune reaction. Live human trials have commenced in 2018 and the “patient 1” is a pancreatic NET patient. Read more here. Interestingly they added Keytruda (an immunotherapy) to the mix. It’s only been four months since ‘Patient 1’ (Tamara) began the trial, but a mid-treatment CT scan was said to be “promising”. I will keep this article live and bring you updates as I receive them.
Clearly it’s still early days in the Oncolytic Virus field with minimum breakthrough in terms of success on humans. In terms of the Neuroendocrine connection, it is exciting that two programmes are showing results (albeit in mice). We wait to hear from Uppsala on how the human test of AdVince is coming along. My agents are scanning the internet every day looking for any comment.
If you want to learn more about Oncolytic Viruses in general – there’s a great summary here.
Almost every day I see something in my news feed about Neuroendocrine Cancer …. an article, a tweet, a blog post, a subscription, an alert of some kind. Certain ones catch my eye and then something in the detail leads me to disappointment at the realisation I’d not be able to share the information because of a major flaw. A common flaw is the failure to recognise that Neuroendocrine Neoplasms (Carcinomas and Tumors) can be found in numerous SITES in the human anatomy. The latest article I read about Steve Jobs was a good read until I noticed it was actually about Pancreatic Cancer and inferred that a pancreatic NET was a subtype of Pancreatic Cancer. I spend a lot of time supporting Pancreatic Cancer because they really need the support, but we do too. The latest celebrity death, Aretha Franklin, has not helped Neuroendocrine Cancer in an awareness sense. There are huge differences between Pancreatic Cancer and Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary – click here to read more.
Of course, there is a trend with famous NET patients being labelled with something else and I outlined this issue in my post “The Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer” which already has over 25,000 hits. We need to keep clawing back some of that lost awareness. And we need to continue to emphasise that Neuroendocrine Cancer is NOT a type of another cancer PERIOD. Click here and share please!
I once told a story in a post called “Neuroendocrine – what’s that?“, about my own experience in communicating the details of my condition. To cut a long story short, as soon as I mention my primary SITE was in the ‘intestine’, people assume I have some kind of bowel cancer. Cue – a careful explanation which doubles up as awareness.
Our situation is not helped by many ‘big hitter’ cancer organisations, who mostly tend to list cancers by anatomical SITE, nearly always in alphabetical order. Many of them then add Neuroendocrine Tumors of the Pancreas, Lung, Appendix, to the description for Pancreatic, Lung and Appendiceal Cancer sections respectively, i.e. inferring that they are subtypes of those cancers. I get the reason for the anatomical listing but system wide cancers also need be included, i.e. Neuroendocrine disease should be listed as an entity under N. Which bit of “Neuroendocrine tumors can occur anywhere in the body” is not understood! It is a cancer in its own right, with its own medical coding, its own classification system, its own specialists and specialist centres. It’s not a type of another cancer!
The misnomer term ‘Carcinoid’ is often listed under ‘C‘ and that is part of the image and awareness problem that results when the correct nomenclature is not used, or, as is the case with many organisations, their sites are not kept up to date.
Another interesting feature of certain types of Neuroendocrine Cancer is multiple primaries. It’s not uncommon to have multiple primary tumours but they do tend to be in the same organ or site. However, certain uncommon types of Neuroendocrine Cancer such as Pheochromoctyomas/Paragangliomas (including hereditary versions) there can multiple primaries at different sites. Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN) are a group of disorders (hereditary syndromes) that affect the endocrine system. The disease typically involves Neuroendocrine Tumors in multiple endocrine glands and may cause the glands to become overactive and overproduce hormones.
I once wrote a blog using a title inspired by a patient comment – “The little suckers get everywhere”. This was an early attempt by me to define all the locations I had gathered in from patient comments on my Facebook site. Did I miss any? Please let me know!
Clearly we need to ‘raise our sites’and shout louder! My name is Ronny Allan and I have a Neuroendocrine Cancer with a Small Intestinal Primary. I do not have Bowel Cancer!
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“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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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 option. Listen 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.
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.
New treatments seem to be appearing every month and that is good news for patients. I have a personal connection to this one though. In 2014, Chris and I walked along Hadrian’s Wall, a 2,000-year-old World Heritage structure in Northern England. This was part therapy for me but also part fund-raising to help pay for this new treatment which launches today in Southampton General Hospital (UK) which was recently awarded the coveted title of European NET Centre of Excellence (along with Bournemouth and Portsmouth Hospitals). It is the first ever deployment of this type of treatment in UK and Chris and I were happy to shred the soles of our feet to support this worthy cause, particularly when the two guys behind the idea were my surgeon (Mr Neil Pearce) and my Interventional Radiologist (Dr Brian Stedman). Both of these brilliant and skilled people ‘worked on me’ for 12 months in 2010/2011 and I live to tell you this tale! Shortly after my surgery, they decided to set up PLANETS to focus on providing additional support for Neuroendocrine Cancer and other types such as Pancreatic and Liver in which they specialised.
Intra-Operative Radiotherapy (IORT) provided by Mobetron is a bit of a game changer for advanced cancers which are hard to treat and remove. This development is said to be at the cutting edge of modern radiation oncology. Despite the heading, this treatment can be used for many cancers including Neuroendocrine, Pancreatic, Colorectal and Bladder. It is a mobile version and can be moved to different operating theatres. There are plans to eventually extend the portfolio to include Head and Neck, Oesophageal, Lung, Breast and Cervical cancers. The technology can also be used on Brain tumours but there are currently no plans to offer this service.
The radiotherapy is applied during surgery which means the treatment can be delivered more directly without causing damage to surrounding tissue and organs. It’s worth adding at this stage that this type of radiotherapy is not the same as PRRT. Moreover, it is not designed to replace PRRT which remains an option for patients downstream if they still need it (in addition to other treatments such as Sirtex, liver emobolisatons). Clearly dosage calculations would be required for cumulative radiation exposure over short timescales. Worth noting that PRRT currently remains denied to patients in England.
The type of radiotherapy is more similar to conventional external beam systems and the key advantage is that it can be used for areas where tumours have just been removed or part removed or in locations which have a tendency to recur; and for inoperable tumours such as those surrounding vital structures. Examples include: bulky pancreatic tumours, inoperable mesenteric root lymph node deposits, difficult pelvic tumours, metastases around the bladder, rectum or uterus and ovaries. It follows that in addition to treating certain tumours earlier than would normally be possible, IORT may preclude the need for further treatment or at least extend the period post surgery where further treatment would be required.
Clearly there is a lot of excitement surrounding this first ever deployment of IORT which has raised the profile of Neuroendocrine Tumours in the UK national press – check out this article in the Daily Mail by clicking here. There is a useful animated video to watch by clicking here.
The official launch happened on Mon 13 Jun 2016 and Chris and I were very proud to attend.
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I was checking my statistics this morning and found the most viewed post to date was published on the day Stephen Suttonpassed away. I didn’t really want to jump onto the Stephen Sutton bandwagon but when I found on the day of his passing that it had taken 6 months to diagnose his bowel cancer, I knew this would be relevant to Neuroendocrine Cancer awareness, particularly important as it’s one of the primary aims of my blog. I’m thinking the top viewing score to date is not because it mentioned Stephen Sutton (sad as that event was) but because the issues he faced are well known to Neuroendocrine Cancer patients, many of whom are readers.
In the past week, the newspapers have published several follow up articles on the Stephen Sutton story providing examples of patients who had been misdiagnosed only to end up finding they have a cancer which is not now curable. Neuroendocrine tumours can present complex challenges to diagnosis and treatment. Even in the case of metastatic spread, there are some important differences in the nature of these tumours compared to other cancers found in the same part of the anatomy (e.g. the pancreas). If you were to search Neuroendocrine tumour support organisations’ forum groups and websites, you will find numerous stories of people of all ages being diagnosed with a whole bunch of ailments before they were finally diagnosed with some form of Neuroendocrine disease.
Some people with Neuroendocrine cancer can be diagnosed by accident during invasive procedures for something more common, e.g. appendicitis – you may remember me saying this was a common site for primary neuroendocrine tumours – these discoveries would be a surprise if the person was asymptomatic (as is often the case). It can also be found during diagnosis of something which the cancer would not otherwise be able to be seen, for example a scan – and even then it may not lead to diagnosis of the correct cancer until further downstream. This scenario might even be the end of a long chain of vague problems (perhaps over years).
When I look at my own experience, I would appear to be somewhere in the middle and the way in which my cancer was eventually diagnosed leads me to think I had a bit of luck but following a period of ignorance on my part. If you remember, I nonchalantly told my asthma nurse I had lost a ‘wee bit of weight’. That could have gone two ways ………… fortunately she sent me for a blood test and here I am now 🙂 If you want to read or hear about my cancer diagnosis experience, check this blog:Diagnosis
However, 18 months prior to that I did go and see my GP saying that I had noticed a darkening of my stool. After a quick ‘rummage’ nothing untoward was reported in the ‘extremities’ but I was sent to see a specialist as a precaution and probably because of my age. I eventually had a colonoscopy and for good luck, an endoscopy. Again nothing untoward reported other than a mild case of diverticular disease which apparently 50% of people over 50 have (filed!). In any case, the stool had returned to normal by this stage. I now know that my primary tumour, even if it was visible, was beyond the range of the colonoscopy procedure and I also now know that my tumours had been slowly growing inside me for some years. However, given the nature of Neuroendocrine tumours, I wonder what might have transpired had I been given a CT scan at that point? But there was no clinical evidence to support such an expensive procedure. After all, I didn’t look ill, I didn’t feel ill.
So what is my bottom line on this story? Cancer diagnosis can be complex, some cancers more complex than others. I often think the whole population should be regularly scanned and have blood tests but that would be cost prohibitive not to mention logistically challenging. I’m sure there are mistakes being made and lessons learned are very important. However, I do believe these cases are in the minority. Putting prevention and research into cures to one side, AWARENESS is key and I mean awareness by the population as well as medical staff. One way to increase awareness is for people to talk about their experiences.
Thanks for reading
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