Drugs in Development for Advanced Pancreatic Cancer
by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. 12/2020
Not all pancreatic cancers are the same. Pancreatic cancers may differ from one another based on what genes have mutations, and “genomic testing” can be performed on a biopsy sample of the cancer and sometimes with a "blood biopsy" to identify the specific genetic abnormality driving the growth of the cancer. Once the cancer driving mutation is identified a specific precision cancer medicine or immunotherapy can be developed to attack that specific mutation or other cancer-related change in the DNA programming of the cancer cells.
It is estimated that over 25% of pancreatic cancers have mutations for which there is clinical or strong preclinical evidence of a predictive benefit from a specific therapy that can be targeted with a precision cancer medicine. All patients should undergo genomic biomarker testing at the time of diagnosis or cancer recurrence in order to determine if they have a treatable mutation or are eligible for participation in a clinical trial evaluating newer precision cancer medicines and immunotherapies.
A program called Precision Promise clinical trials will is currently enrolling patients with advanced pancreatic cancer who have either received no treatment in the metastatic setting (first line), or who have only received one prior treatment for their cancer in the metastatic setting (second line). Precision Promise is an adaptive clinical trial design, that seeks to match patients with precision medicines that may be of benefit. This adaptive clinical trial design provides the opportunity for new treatments to be approved more quickly than in traditional trials. Precision PromiseSM – For Patients
Precision Cancer Medicines for Pancreatic Cancer
BRCA is the first identifiable mutation with an approved precision cancer medicine called a "PARP" inhibitor for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
- Learn more about PARP Inhibitors
RAS is an oncogene —a gene that encodes proteins that function as switches to turn on various genes for cell growth and division. Mutations in the RAS genes result in permanently “turned on” switches that in turn result in uninhibited cell division, which can lead to cancer. There are three types of RAS oncogenes, designated NRAS, GRAS, and KRAS. Although mutations in all three can cause cancer. KRAS mutations are the most common oncogenic alteration in all of human cancers and there are currently no effective treatments available for patients with KRAS-mutant cancers. Approximately 95% of patients with pancreatic adenocarcinoma carry a mutation in or have amplification of KRAS. Several drugs are in development to target RAS.
- Adagrasib targets KRAS
- Sotorasib (AMG 510)
- Berzosertibe ATM mutant tumors may also be considered for treatment with ATR inhibitors.
BRAF is mutated in approximately 3% of patients with pancreatic cancer and can be treated with BRAF/MEK inhibitor combinations. The BRAF and MEK genes are known to play a role in cell growth, and mutations of these genes are common in several types of cancer. A combination of a BRAF and a MEK inhibitor appears to decrease the emergence of disease resistance that occurs in patients treated with a BRAF mutation. (9)
ALK+ Cancers: Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) mutation. The ALK mutation is responsible for initiating and promoting cancer growth.
ROS-1+ Cancers: The ROS-1 mutation is an uncommon mutation and plays a role in the development and progression of some cancers and can be targeted with several drugs. (10)
Tissue Agnostic Targets
TRK + Cancers: Tropomyosin receptor kinases (TRK) fusions are rare chromosomal abnormalities that occur when one of the NTRK genes (NTRK1, NTRK2, NTRK3) becomes abnormally connected to another, unrelated gene (e.g. ETV6, LMNA, TPM3). This abnormality results in uncontrolled TRK signaling that can lead to cancer. (12.13) Several disease agnostic treatments have been shown to induce responses, occasionally durably, in patients with pancreatic cancer. Tropomyosin receptor kinase inhibitors which target TRKA, TRKB, TRKC, ROS1 and ALK encoded by NTRK1, NTRK2, NTRK3, ROS1 and ALK, respectively are associated with response rates exceeding 75%.
- Vitrakvi (larotrectinib)
- Rozlytrek (entrectinib)
Additional targets of interest
CD40 is expressed on and can trigger activation in a variety of immune cell types, including macrophages and dendritic cells. It is also expressed in some tumor types, including some pancreatic tumors, in which antibody-dependent cytotoxicity can be induced. Phase 1 trials have demonstrated anti-cancer activity of these agents in combination with chemotherapy, supporting further study in several ongoing phase 2 trials.
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Devimistat (CPI-613) is a novel lipoate analog that inhibits pyruvate dehydrogenase and alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase. Combining this agent with modified FOLFIRINOX chemotherapy in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer resulted in a 61% objective response rate, including a 17% complete response rate, in a phase 1 study. Devimistat is undergoing investigation in combination with modified FOLFIRINOX in a phase 3 trial.
- Alistar A, et al. Lancet Oncol. 2017;doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(17)30314-5.
- The Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network. Cancer Cell. 2017;doi:10.1016/j.ccell.2017.07.007.
- Golan T, et al. N Engl J Med. 2019;doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1903387.
- Moore MJ, et al. J Clin Oncol. 2007;doi:10.1200/JCO.2006.07.9525.
- Pishvaian MJ, et al. Lancet Oncol. 2020;doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(20)30074-7.
- Tempero MA, et al. Abstract 638. Presented at: Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium; Jan. 23-25, 2020; San Francisco.
- Herbst RS, Lopes G, Kowalski DM, et al. Association of KRAS mutational status with response to pembrolizumab monotherapy given as first-line therapy for PD-L1-positive advanced non-squamous NSCLC in KEYNOTE-042.
- Gadgeel S, Rodriguez-Abreu D, Felip E, et al. KRAS mutational status and efficacy in KEYNOTE-189: Pembrolizumab (pembro) plus chemotherapy (chemo) vs placebo plus chemo as first-line therapy for metastatic non-squamous NSCLC.
- Efficacy of Larotrectinib in TRK Fusion–Positive Cancers in Adults and Children
- Kwak EL, Bang Y-J, Camidge DR et al. Anaplastic lymphoma kinase inhibition in non-small-cell lung cancer. New England Journal of Medicine.2010;363:1693-1703.
- Entrectinib Granted Priority Review by FDA for NTRK+ Tumors and ROS1+ NSCLC
- Lancet Oncol. 2019 May 20. Epub ahead of print.