Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment

Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer expert and researcher, explains why patients with lung cancer should consider a clinical trial and the role trials plays in clinical care.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Erin Schenk:

We have a very active clinical trial practice in the lung cancer world for one reason alone, and that’s that while our current therapies are good, we can still do better. Lung cancer accounts for significant cancer-related deaths in the United States and the world. And we wanna work to try and improve how well patients do and also improve how many patients we are able to cure. Clinical trials can be at any step of your workup or treatment.

So, even patients with earlier-stage disease meaning lung cancer where we can resect it with surgery, there are a number of clinical trials going on right now to try to better improve the outcomes we see with our normal standards of care. So, whether you are having a lung cancer removed by surgery whether you’re receiving chemotherapy and radiation and immunotherapy whether your lung cancer has happened to spread outside of the lungs, there are clinical trials available at every step in the game.

And I would really encourage you to ask your cancer care team or your doctor about whether or not clinical trials might be available in your area. Because often, they can help identify new targets or other ways of trying to attack the vulnerabilities of your lung cancer.

If you are considering a clinical trial, there are a number of important questions to find out from the clinical trial team as well as your cancer care team. Some of the things are really practical, logistical questions and one of those is, “How often do I need to come to clinic? How many more schedule visits do I need?”

Usually, with clinical trials, upfront so before you get on the clinical trial or once you start receiving the clinical trial medicine or therapy, often there are more frequent visits in that initial time period. But after things are – after you’ve had several treatments with the trial medicine, often it becomes more standard of care meaning visiting once every three weeks for blood work and a visit with your team and then infusion.

So, it’s often a little more work up front, and then it gets back to the usual expectations of how often you have to be in our offices. So, I think those logistical concerns are very real because especially for larger institutions, sometimes, coming to our campuses can be a bit of a challenge. So, that would be one. I would recommend discussing logistics. Discussing with your team as to why they think this would be a trial for you is important.

Occasionally, we are able to screen for certain markers or certain things that are expressed on the cancer cells and then match you with clinical trials that try to target those specific molecules or proteins or flags that are on the surface of the cancer cell. So, oftentimes, we try to match patients up to a specific clinical trial, so better understanding why that one was recommended. And then I would ask your team to also discuss what are the side effects that have been noticed.

Often with these clinical trial medicines, we don’t have a lot of experience with how well patients do on these therapies. But sometimes, we can give you an idea in terms of what we expect and what we will watch closely for. So, I think logistics are important, why your doctor or your cancer team thinks this is a good trial for you, and then finally, what sort of side effects have been noticed as best we can tell with this new trial medicine.

Lung Cancer Treatment Advances: What are Antibody Drug Conjugates?

Lung Cancer Treatment Advances: What are Antibody Drug Conjugates? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer expert, discusses emerging research around antibody drug conjugates (ADC) and how this therapy works to treat patients with lung cancer.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Erin Schenk:

Some interesting research that’s coming to the forefront in the lung cancer field are using new medicines called antibody-drug conjugates. And so, these medicines, I think of as another type of targeted therapy. So, what happens is that cancer cells express certain proteins or certain flags on their surface that aren’t often found on other normal cells.

And what these ADC drugs are able to do is that they’re able to seek the cells that express certain flags, and then deliver a chemotherapy payload directly to those cancer cells. One trial from the recent ASCO annual meeting from this year, 2020, was looking at an ADC that targeted HER2 which can sometimes be over-expressed by lung cancer cells.

And they had good initial reports in terms of patients being able to have disease control for some time and minimal side effects.

So, I think in general the idea of ADCs or looking for surface markers on the cancer cells to try to in a more targeted fashion deliver the chemotherapy payload, I think this is a really exciting area of investigation as well as a new potential therapy for our patients with lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Treatment: What Is Immunotherapy?

Lung Cancer Treatment: What Is Immunotherapy? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer specialist, provides an in-depth explanation of what immunotherapy is, and its role in treating lung cancer.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Erin Schenk:

Immunotherapies are powerful new medicines that we available to us as medical oncologists and especially within patients with lung cancer. Immunotherapies are medicines that help to activate your body’s own defenses to go seek out and kill the cancer cells.

So, immunotherapies prevent stop signs on the cancer cells.

What happens is that as the cancer cells grow and as they become more resistant to your body’s natural defenses, it puts up certain stop signs. And these stop signs prevent your body’s immune system from attacking them. Immunotherapies, basically, it cuts off that stop sign so that your immune cells can go and attack the cancer cells.

Immunotherapies play a role in the treatment of many lung cancer patients, nearly all. So, immunotherapy has recently found a role in curative-intent therapy meaning we give these treatments to you to try and cure you of your cancer completely. And that’s in patients who have advanced lung cancer that they can’t surgically resect, or it’s not safe or feasible to cut out, but it hasn’t spread to anywhere else in the body.

So, often, those patients receive chemotherapy and radiation together, and then they receive immunotherapy for a year. So, that’s one set of patients we treat with immunotherapy. And then most other patients with lung cancers especially metastatic lung cancer or cancer that’s spread elsewhere in the body, immunotherapy plays a role in treatment regardless of what type of lung cancer that you have with a couple exceptions which I’ll get to.

So, first, if patients have small cell lung cancer that has spread in other parts of the body, immunotherapy’s an important part of the initial treatment regimen combined with chemotherapy. That’s one of the first advances in decades for patients with small-cell lung cancer. The other situation where we use immunotherapy in metastatic disease is with non-small cell lung cancer. And here we have data and studies to support the use of immunotherapy either alone or in combination with chemotherapy medicines.

And the determinate, there’s a number of factors we use to help determine whether a patient can get immunotherapy alone or immunotherapy in combination with chemotherapy, that’s based on PD-L1 status. So, that’s the immunotherapy marker that we look for on cancer cells. If the PD-L1 status is high enough on the cancer cells, we can discuss with our patients using immunotherapy alone.

If that PD-L1 marker on the cancer cells is not high, then we can use immunotherapy plus chemotherapy in our patients. One area where we’re still not quite sure how to best use immunotherapy are in patients with driver mutations or some of these mutations that we look for with special molecular testing like EGFR, ALK fusions, ROS1 fusions.

What we’ve been learning over time is that immunotherapy alone does not appear to help patients do better for longer. We’ve also been learning through clinical trials that immunotherapy combined with TKIs which is the targeted therapy patients receive if they have one of these driver mutations, that does not appear to be effective or safe from some of these early clinical trials.

There’s some debate right now amongst my national/international colleagues as to whether or not giving immunotherapy plus chemotherapy is the right choice for these patients after TKIs or targeted therapies stop working. It’s really up to the discussions that you have with your doctor and whether or not they think immunotherapy and chemotherapy could be right in that situation.

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a lung cancer patient, why should you stay informed about research? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews what patients need to know.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Wakelee:

So, there’s so much happening in lung cancer research now, it is hard to really narrow it down to one thing to be specifically excited about. Where we have made so much progress in particular is with target treatments, and also with immune therapy. So, when we think about the targeted treatments, it’s only been about 15 years since we first learned about drugs that would specifically target the EGFR gene mutations.

And when we found a tumor with an EGFR gene mutation, we then had a medication we could give that would work better than chemo. And now we have five EGFR drugs available in the US. And then we found out about this ALK gene mutation that happen in some tumors. Now we have five drugs that work there. And the with ROS1, that was found, and now we’ve got four drugs that work there that are approved.

And it seems that we keep learning about more and more mutations, so those are mutations called NTRK and BRAF. And with all of those, we now have drug treatments, so it’s been very, very rapid discovery of specific gene mutations and drugs that work for that. And I think we’re continuing to see new targets being identified and new drugs being found.

And also, when those drugs stop working, better understanding why and what we can do to help them work longer, or what we can give next. So, that’s a very active area of research that’s exciting. And then we have the immune therapy. So, the ones that are available so far are drugs that block either PD-1 or PD-L1, and that's one of the really important stop signals for the immune system.

And tumors can use that stop signal to block an immune reaction to a tumor. But if you block that stop signal then the immune system can attack the cancer. So, that's really important, these PD-1, PD-L1 drugs.

We also know about another stop signal called CTLA-4, and there’re drugs that block that as well. And now, where there’s a ton of research is in trying to work with other parts of the immune system, other either pro-immune or anti-immune signals, and changing those in a way where we can improve the ability of the immune system to find the cancer cells and attack the cancer cells.

So, there are many, many studies being done with drugs, and especially in combinations, trying to get that response against the cancer from the immune system to be even stronger. And that’s, I think, where we’re making the most exciting headway now.

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are there new lung cancer treatment options that you should know about? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews the latest research. Looking for more information? Download the Find Your Voice Resource Guide here.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Wakelee:

So, the treatment of lung cancer has been changing very, very quickly. We’ve had a lot of new options that have become available in the last few years, and there’re new ones coming along all the time. When I started treating lung cancer, which was a number of years ago, we were able to treat and help people.

But our only real option when the cancer was metastatic was chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is still an important part of treatment for many people, but now we have other options. So, starting about 15 years ago, people were able to identify that some tumors had specific genetic changes. We also call these molecular changes, or gene mutations, or just mutations in the tumor. They have a lot of different names.

But when we do find them, these are things like EGFR or ALK or ROS or BRAF or MET, we actually have different treatment options that only work for tumors that have those specific genetic changes, and don’t work in tumors that don’t have those. So, when we talk about genetic changes a lot of people think, “Oh, that’s something that I’ve inherited.”

These are not things that are inherited. This is not something that’s in the whole person. It’s just in the tumor. So, it’s a mutation that happened in the DNA of the cell, and that cell then became the cancer. And depending on what that mutation or mutations are, we still can have chemotherapy, and that can work.

But for specific ones, and specifically EGFR, ALK, ROS, BRAF, we know that there are pill drugs and oral medication that actually is gonna be better than chemo, at least for a period of time, if a cancer has that specific mutation.

So, it’s really, really important to figure that out. It’s not something a doctor can sort out just by looking at the patient or looking at the tumor under the microscope. We have to do special testing, looking at the tumor DNA.

And we now have ways of looking for those mutations, not just in the tumor tissue, but also sometimes with blood. So, we can draw a blood test and look for those as well when there’s a tumor that’s shedding the DNA. So, it’s really important to think about that. And we now have a whole host of medications that we can offer people when we the find these mutations that we didn’t used to have, even a few years ago.

And, actually, if you think back over the last five years, we’ve had new drugs approved, a few of them every year, for these specific gene mutation tumors, so that’s really, really exciting. The other thing that’s changed dramatically just in the last five years is what we call immune therapy.

So, when we think about the different types of treatment, chemotherapy works by poisoning DNA. And in order to make a new cell, you have to make new DNA. Tumors are doing that more than a lot of normal tissue, and so we’re able to give chemotherapy and specifically hurt tumors and not the rest of the person very much.

With the targeted treatments where we find a gene target and where there’s a gene mutation in a tumor, those are medications that specifically hit that altered gene, that altered protein made by the gene. And then they work really, really well. What immune therapy does is it actually changes the way your body’s own immune system interacts with the tumor. So, we have a lot of types of immune cells, but the ones that are involved in really fighting the cancer directly are called T cells.

And so, normally, a T cell would recognize something that’s foreign like an abnormal-looking cell that’s a cancer, and attack it. But we have a lot of different systems in our body that stop the T cells from recognizing normal tissue and attacking it.

And one of the best systems for that is something called PD-1 and PD-L1. And so, if you have a T cell and it sees a PD-L1 signal on tissue, it assumes that that tissue was normal tissue and it doesn’t attack. But if you can hide that PD-L1 signal, then if it’s a T cell, a part of the immune system comes in and doesn’t see the PD-L1, it doesn’t get the stop signal. It’s not told to not attack. So, it could attack the tumor better.

And I’m not describing it well because it’s so complicated. There are a lot of different factors that help a T cell know whether to attack or not to attack. But, again, one of these key stop signals is the PD-1, PD-L1 interaction. And so, scientists were able to develop medications that can block PD-1 or PD-L1. And when those medications are in the body, if a tumor is using that particular stop signal as a way to hide from the immune system, when you give the medication that blocks it then the tumor is no longer hiding.

And then the immune system, those T cells, can come in and attack. So, these immune treatments, and there are now a lot, and so these are drugs, like pembrolizumab, also called Keytruda; nivolumab, which also called Opdivo; durvalumab, which is called IMFINZI. And there are many, many others. Those medications have now been shown to really, really help to fight cancer, particularly when the tumor is using that PD-L1 signal. But they can also be combined with chemotherapy and then they work even if there’s not a lot of PD-L1 in the tumor. So, again, it’s a very complex story.

But where we’ve seen dramatic improvements in treatment is we have targeted treatments when the genes are – there are specific genes mutating in tumors. We have immune therapy, which worked for a lot of other people. And sometimes when there’s also gene mutation, but not always, we still have chemotherapy. And then there’s ongoing research with a lot of different medications. Many of them are focusing on better ways to get the immune system to work against cancers beyond what we can already do.