Every December the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) publishes a report highlighting the major achievements in clinical cancer research over the previous year.
In this year’s report, Clinical Cancer Advances 2013, several research highlights from Memorial Sloan Kettering investigators were once again among the studies identified as having the greatest potential impact on patients’ lives.
“We should all be proud that our work at Memorial Sloan Kettering is featured among the select therapeutic advances in cancer care highlighted in ASCO’s annual report,” says Clifford Hudis, Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Breast Cancer Medicine Service, who is also serving a one-year term as President of ASCO. “This is a great independent validation of the importance of the scientific and clinical research that are key to our mission at Memorial Sloan Kettering and it underscores the applicability of our findings for the entire ASCO community and the world it serves.”
Lung Cancer Screening
In the area of prevention and screening, a study led by pulmonary specialist Peter Bach was cited as making an important contribution toward new draft recommendations from the US Preventive Services Task Force that endorsed low-dose CT screening for patients at high risk of developing lung cancer due to their smoking history.
In 2013 Memorial Sloan Kettering launched its Lung Cancer Screening Program and a Lung Cancer Screening Decision Tool to help current and former smokers decide whether they are likely to benefit from undergoing lung cancer screening.
The report also noted a study presented at ASCO’s annual meeting by Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Naiyer Rizvi and colleagues that found two genetic mutations to be common in people who develop lung adenocarcinoma and who have never smoked. These mutations could point the way to studying therapies that may be effective in this group of patients.
On the topic of blood and lymphatic cancers advances, the ASCO report cited a study from a team of Memorial Sloan Kettering investigators — including Michel Sadelain, Renier Brentjens, Isabelle Rivière, and Marco Davila — that found genetically modified immune cells have shown great promise in killing cancer cells in patients with relapsed B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a rapidly progressing form of blood cancer.
In the phase I study, the team reported that all five of the patients who have received the new therapy — known as targeted immunotherapy — had gone into complete remission, with no detectable cancer cells. The patients received infusions of their own T cells, which were removed from their bodies and modified to be able to recognize and attack cancer cells.
Exploiting Cancer Genomics in Brain and Endometrial Cancers
Another study featured in the report was conducted a team of Memorial Sloan Kettering investigators including Ingo Mellinghoff, Timothy Chan, and Cameron Brennan, all members of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program.
This study looked at the ability of an experimental drug called AGI-5198 to target forms of glioma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer, that harbor a certain genetic mutation. The mutation, which occurs in the gene that encodes for an enzyme called IDH1, triggers changes that ultimately lead to tumor development. The study, done in the laboratory, showed that targeting the metabolic effect of IDH1 mutations can affect glioma tumor biology and slow tumor growth.
A large multicenter study of endometrial cancer identified genetic mutations and molecular pathways that could allow women with aggressive forms of the disease to be more precisely diagnosed. Memorial Sloan Kettering physician-scientist Douglas Levine was the corresponding author on the study, which could make it possible to better individualize treatments for many women.
Focus on Genitourinary Cancers
In 2013 a multicenter phase II study led by genitourinary oncologist Howard Scher found that cabozantinib, a new experimental targeted therapy for advanced, castration-resistant prostate cancer, was associated with improved survival, decreased metastases (spread) to the bones and bone pain, and a reduction in the number of tumor cells circulating in the blood.
The reported also noted a study led by kidney cancer specialist Robert Motzer that compared the efficacy and side effects of two targeted therapies for kidney cancer. The study was the first head-to-head comparison of sunitinib (Sutent®) to pazopanib (Votrient®).
While the two drugs were shown to offer similar benefits in terms of controlling the disease and prolonging patients’ lives, sunitinib was associated with more troublesome side effects.
Combination Therapy for Melanoma
Another study presented at ASCO’s annual meeting and also published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which evaluated a combination therapy for the treatment of advanced melanoma skin cancer, was cited in the report.
That research, led by physician-scientist Jedd Wolchok, found that more than half of patients with advanced skin melanoma experienced tumor shrinkage of more than 80 percent when given the combination of the immunotherapy drug ipilimumab (YervoyTM) and the investigational antibody drug nivolumab, suggesting that these two drugs may work better together than on their own.
Harnessing Information Technology
The report noted the growing need to be able to aggregate and rapidly analyze large amounts of clinical data, with the goal of assisting in decision making for the individual patient.
One way that Memorial Sloan Kettering is playing a leading role in this field is through its collaboration with IBM to develop a powerful cancer resource, built on the IBM Watson system, that will provide medical professionals with improved access to current and comprehensive cancer data and practices. The purpose of this decision-support tool is to assist physicians everywhere in creating individualized cancer diagnostic and treatment recommendations for their patients.
The report notes that the hope of this and other related initiatives is that the quality of available information and standards for care delivery will be improved for all patients. You can view the full report on ASCO’s website.