Lung cancer specialist Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez shares research updates from the 2022 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, including the latest advances in immunotherapy and inhibitor therapy.
Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez is Associate Director of Community Outreach – Thoracic Oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Health System. Learn more about Dr. Rodriguez, here.
Cancer researchers recently came together at the annual ASCO meeting. Were there any highlights at the meeting that you think lung cancer patients should know about?
Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:
So, sometimes we look at the conference, and we look at the plenary sessions. And if we don’t see a lung cancer abstract centered at the big plenary session, we feel that nothing happened, but a lot happened. We are learning that all the advances in terms of immunotherapy and targeted therapies can be used earlier and earlier for patients. So, we had data on the NADIM trial, which is a trial out of Spain where they use neoadjuvant, chemo immunotherapy.
We already have that approved in the United States with nivolumab (Opdivo), and they use also nivolumab with a different combination chemotherapy. What was really amazing is that you can replicate this data that is used in immunotherapy before surgery, patients can have very dramatic pathologic complete responses. Which means that at the time of surgery, we don’t find cancer, and that portends a better prognosis. And obviously, we’re trying to do our best for patients. So, that was really, I think, confirms the data that we have seen that immunotherapy can be used earlier.
We also saw updates of trials that had been ongoing looking at the use of immunotherapy in difficult settings. So, there was a trial also out of Spain called the ATEZO-BRAIN trial where they look at the use of immunotherapy Atezolizumab for patients that have brain disease and diagnosis of metastatic disease.
And for a long time, we thought that immunotherapy responses really wouldn’t work in the brain, and we saw that in this trial they were able to control disease in the brain, delay the use of radiation for these patients, and improve their quality of life. So, I think that was, again, a strong message that immunotherapy is here to stay, we can use it in your patients. Then, the third section of trials that were very telling were updates of new drugs for targeted therapy. So, we know today that we have about nine actionable mutations in lung cancer.
So, that is very important that we understand that when a patient gets diagnosed, do they have an actionable mutation, a genetic change that we can target? And that is really the promise of precision medicine, so they present the data for a new drug for KRAS G12C mutation, positive patients call it aggressive. And we already have a drug that was approved about a year ago called sotorasib.
And these drugs are used on patients that previously we knew will do very poorly with chemotherapy and immunotherapy because this KRAS G12C mutation is actually a very common mutation in lung cancer, more common than the other mutations that we have approved targeted therapies in the past, and it’s been difficult to treat.
So now, we have another drug that shows a very good response rate after patients have failed chemo and immunotherapy. It’s still not as a dramatic response as we have seen on the third generation EGFR, ALK and ROS inhibitors, but still a really good promise for patients that didn’t have an option.
So, that was good, they also updated more data on some of the third-generation drugs for ALK. So, we have seen in a prior conference called ACR the drug lorlatinib (Lorbrena), which a third-generation ALK inhibitor, has showed already improvements for patients that have failed prior therapies.
But now they’re showing that for patients in the frontline setting when they first diagnose, receiving a third generation ALK inhibitor can improve brain responses. So, they saw a very dramatic has a ratio of .8, so basically over 80 percent of the brain disease was controlled, and in some complete responses were seen.
And then, patients had a median survival that was over the three-year mark, which had been seen with the prior ALK inhibitors. So, I think it just goes to show that the progress in targeted therapies for lung cancers is exponential, that once we understand the genetic pathways, and we can develop better drugs.
For example, this lorlatinib drug was actually developed in a way that it will stay in the brain longer, because we know that that’s an area where patients have failed. So, really understanding where the prior drugs have failed, where this resistance has been happened, allows us to develop better drugs for patients. So, I think it’s definitely very hopeful conference. I think the best part of the conference was people coming together, because I think that’s when investigators have the opportunity to collaborate and think of new ideas.
So, I think that we don’t take it for granted that we were able to have an in-person conference, which hadn’t happened in two years. We had patient advocates that joined as well, so that’s also very important that the patient advocates are part of the research program, and ideas, and presentations.