FDA Revokes Approval of Avastin Use For Metastatic Breast Cancer; Major U.S. Ovarian Cancer Advocacy Organization Concerned

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Hamburg revoked approval of Avastin for treatment of metastatic breast cancer in the U.S. The decision does not impact Avastin’s availability for its approved uses for other cancer types in the U.S. A major U.S. ovarian cancer advocacy organization is concerned that the FDA decision will make it more difficult for ovarian cancer patients to gain access to Avastin.

FDA Revocation of Avastin Approval For Metastatic Breast Cancer

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., said today she is revoking the agency’s approval of the breast cancer indication for Avastin® (bevacizumab) after concluding that the drug has not been shown to be safe and effective for that use.

Avastin will still remain on the market as an approved treatment for certain types of colon, lung, kidney and brain cancer (glioblastoma multiforme).

“This was a difficult decision. FDA recognizes how hard it is for patients and their families to cope with metastatic breast cancer and how great a need there is for more effective treatments. But patients must have confidence that the drugs they take are both safe and effective for their intended use,” Dr. Hamburg said. “After reviewing the available studies it is clear that women who take Avastin for metastatic breast cancer risk potentially life-threatening side effects without proof that the use of Avastin will provide a benefit, in terms of delay in tumor growth, that would justify those risks. Nor is there evidence that use of Avastin will either help them live longer or improve their quality of life.”

Avastin’s risks include severe high blood pressure; bleeding and hemorrhaging; heart attack or heart failure; and the development of perforations in different parts of the body such as the nose, stomach, and intestines.

Today’s decision, outlined in Dr. Hamburg’s 69-page opinion, involves Avastin used in combination with the cancer drug paclitaxel (Taxol) for those patients who have not been treated with chemotherapy for their form of metastatic breast cancer known as “HER-2 negative.” This indication must now be removed from Avastin’s product labeling.

Dr. Hamburg’s decision is based on an extensive record, which includes thousands of pages submitted to a public docket, data from several clinical trials, and the record from a two-day hearing held in June, 2011.

Avastin was approved for metastatic breast cancer in February 2008 under the FDA’s accelerated approval program, which allows a drug to be approved based on data that are not sufficiently complete to permit full approval. The accelerated approval program provides earlier patient access to promising new drugs to treat serious or life-threatening conditions while confirmatory clinical trials are conducted. If the clinical trials do not justify the continued approval of the drug or a specific drug indication, the agency may revoke its approval. In this case, the accelerated approval was based on promising results from one study that suggested that the drug could provide a meaningful increase in the amount of time from when treatment is started until the tumor grows or the death of the patient.

After the accelerated approval of Avastin for breast cancer, the drug’s sponsor, Genentech (a member of the Roche Group) completed two additional clinical trials and submitted the data from those studies to the FDA. These data showed only a small effect on tumor growth without evidence that patients lived any longer or had a better quality of life compared to taking standard chemotherapy alone – not enough to outweigh the risk of taking the drug.

The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), which is responsible for the approval of this drug, ultimately concluded that the results of these additional studies did not justify continued approval and notified Genentech that it was proposing to withdraw approval of the indication.

Genentech did not agree with CDER’s evaluation of the data and, following the procedures set out in FDA regulations, requested a hearing on CDER’s withdrawal proposal, with a decision to be made by the FDA Commissioner. That two-day hearing, which took place June 28-29, 2011, included recommendations from the FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC), voting 6-0 in favor of withdrawing approval of Avastin’s breast cancer indication. After the hearing, the public docket remained open until August 4, 2011. In an earlier meeting of the ODAC, that committee had voted 12-1 in favor of the removal of the breast cancer indication from the Avastin label.

“FDA is committed to working with sponsors to bring promising cancer drugs to market as quickly as possible using tools like accelerated approval,” Dr. Hamburg said. “I encourage Genentech to consider additional studies to identify if there are select subgroups of women suffering from breast cancer who might benefit from this drug.”

Genentech Response

In a press release issued earlier today, Genentech’s Hal Barron, M.D., chief medical officer and head, Global Product Development, stated:

“We are disappointed with the outcome. We remain committed to the many women with this incurable disease and will continue to provide help through our patient support programs to those who may be facing obstacles to receiving their treatment in the United States. Despite today’s action, we will start a new Phase III study of Avastin in combination with paclitaxel in previously untreated metastatic breast cancer and will evaluate a potential biomarker that may help identify which people might derive a more substantial benefit from Avastin.”

Genentech emphasizes the following points in its press release:

  • The FDA Commissioner revoked approval of Avastin for treatment of metastatic breast cancer in the U.S.
  • The FDA’s action concludes its review of Avastin’s use for metastatic breast cancer.
  • The FDA decision does not impact Avastin’s approved uses for other cancer types in the U.S. or other countries.
  • The FDA decision does not impact the approval of Avastin for metastatic breast cancer in more than 80 foreign countries.
  • Roche will initiate a new clinical trial of Avastin plus paclitaxel in metastatic breast cancer.
  • Genentech will issue a letter to healthcare providers and will also provide them with a letter to distribute to their patients. Both letters will be made available on Genentech’s website.
  • Patients with questions or concerns about insurance coverage, or doctors with questions about reimbursement, can call Genentech’s Access Solutions Group at (866)-4- ACCESS.
  • Doctors with questions about Avastin can call Genentech’s Medical Communications group at (800) 821-8590.
  • The FDA’s action does not impact ongoing clinical trials with Avastin in breast cancer. For more information, please call Genentech’s Trial Information Support Line at (888) 662-6728 or visit clinicaltrials.gov.

Major U.S. Ovarian Cancer Advocacy Organization Concerned About Future Impact of FDA Decision

Karen Orloff Kaplan, MSW, MPH, ScD, Chief Executive Officer, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance

Karen Orloff Kaplan, MSW, MPH, ScD, the Chief Executive Officer for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA), expressed concern that the removal of metastatic breast cancer from the Avastin label could negatively affect women with ovarian cancer, for whom the drug is used “off-label.”  OCNA is one of the most influential advocates for women with ovarian cancer in the United States.

Dr. Kaplan stated:

“Results from three Phase III clinical studies show that Avastin is beneficial for some women with ovarian cancer. We are deeply concerned that the Food and Drug Administration’s decision regarding metastatic breast cancer will make it difficult for women with ovarian cancer to access Avastin, and that patients could be denied insurance coverage for this treatment. The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance will continue our work to ensure that drugs that are useful and medically appropriate are available to women with this disease.”

In the FDA report accompanying her decision, Commissioner Hamburg cited a lack of evidence that Avastin improved overall survival for women with metastatic breast cancer in its decision. “Given how difficult it is to measure overall survival in ovarian cancer clinical trials, we are concerned that today’s ruling may set an unfortunate precedent,” said Dr. Kaplan.

Currently, various national cancer treatment guidelines, such as the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Compendium™, include Avastin as a treatment for ovarian cancer. Despite that fact, the FDA’s decision could prompt a reexamination of industry treatment guidelines by various groups, including the NCCN. The NCCN  is a nonprofit alliance which consists of 21 leading U.S. cancer centers.

Specifically, OCNA is concerned that the FDA Avastin label change, mandated by today’s FDA decision, will lead to restrictions by third party payers, including the U.S. Medicare federal insurance program, who generally reimburse for Avastin when a woman’s cancer has returned. OCNA’s concern may be warranted because Reuters reported earlier today that some healthcare insurers have already started pulling back on Avastin reimbursement coverage for breast cancer.

As of now, according to Reuters, Medicare will continue to pay for Avastin used in the treatment of breast cancer, despite  the FDA’s revocation decision. “Medicare will continue to cover Avastin,” said Don McLeod, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). “CMS will monitor the issue and evaluate coverage options as a result of action by the FDA but has no immediate plans to change coverage policies.” The CMS statement may mitigate concerns that patients using the drug would lose critical drug reimbursement insurance coverage in the future.

Sources:

Addtional Information:

2011 ASCO: Additional Phase III Study Data Support the Potential Role of Avastin in Newly-Diagnosed & Recurrent Ovarian Cancer

Positive results from two bevacizumab (Avastin®) phase III clinical studies were presented at the 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting on June 4. The data reported add to the growing body of evidence in support of bevacizumab use to treat recurrent and newly-diagnosed ovarian cancer.

Positive results from two bevacizumab (Avastin®) phase III clinical studies were presented at the 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting on June 4. The data reported add to the growing body of evidence in support of bevacizumab use to treat recurrent and newly-diagnosed ovarian cancer.

About Bevacizumab (Avastin®)

A diagram illustrating the role of the VEGF protein in the formation of new blood vessels that support tumor growth. Click on the picture above to view a video regarding the mechanism of action with respect to bevacizumab (Avastin®). (Photo: Genentech)

Angiogenesis” refers to the process of new blood vessel formation. When tissues need more oxygen, they release molecules that encourage blood vessel growth. Angiogenesis is a normal and vital process in human growth and development, as well as in wound healing. Unfortunately, cancer tumors also utilize this same process to enhance their own blood supply in order to nourish their aberrant growth.

Ovarian cancer is associated with high concentrations of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein associated with tumor growth and spread. Studies have shown a correlation between a high concentration of VEGF and ascites  (excess fluid in the body cavity) development, disease worsening, and a poorer prognosis in women with ovarian cancer.[1-2]

Bevacizumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody designed to specifically bind to the VEGF protein, which plays an important role throughout the lifecycle of the tumor to develop and maintain blood vessels through angiogenesis. The drug interferes with the tumor blood supply by directly binding to the VEGF protein to prevent interactions with receptors on blood vessel cells. The tumor blood supply is thought to be critical to a tumor’s ability to grow and spread in the body (metastasize).

Bevacizumab is the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved therapy designed to inhibit angiogenesis. Although FDA-approved for several forms of cancer, bevacizumab is not yet approved for the treatment of ovarian cancer. Patients treated with bevacizumab may experience side effects. In past clinical trials, some people treated with bevacizumab experienced serious and sometimes fatal side effects, related to gastrointestinal (GI) perforation, surgery and wound healing, and severe bleeding. For more information, review the Avastin BOXED WARNINGS and Additional Important Safety Information.

OCEANS Phase III Clinical Study: Women with Recurrent Platinum Sensitive Ovarian Cancer Experience 78% Response Rate & 52% Reduction In Disease Progression Risk

  • About the OCEANS Study

“OCEANS” is a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase III study in 484 women with platinum drug-sensitive recurrent ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian tube cancer.[3] Women in the OCEANS study received no more than one treatment regimen prior to study enrollment.  The OCEANS study randomized enrolled women to one of two clinical study arms:

Arm A: Intravenous carboplatin (area under the curve (AUC) 4; Day 1) + gemcitabine  (1,000 mg/m2; Day 1 & 8; brand name: Gemzar®) + placebo (Day 1) every 21 days x 6 cycles, followed by placebo maintenance every 21 days, until disease progression or unacceptable toxicity occurred.

Arm B: Carboplatin + gemcitabine + bevacizumab (15 mg/kg; Day 1) every 21 days x 6 cycles, followed by single agent bevacizumab maintenance every 21 days, until disease progression or unacceptable toxicity occurred.

The primary endpoint of the OCEANS study was progression free survival. The secondary endpoints of the study included overall survival, objective response, duration of response and safety profile.

  • OCEANS Study Data

Carol Aghajanian, M.D. speaks during the Oral Abstract Session: Gynecologic Cancer at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting on Saturday June 4, 2011. (Photo: ASCO/GMG/Silas Crews 2011)

Carol Aghajanian, M.D., chief of the gynecologic medical oncology service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, presented the data from the OCEANS study comparing efficacy and safety of chemotherapy and antiangiogenic therapy in platinum drug-sensitive recurrent ovarian cancer.

Two hundred forty-two women were allocated to each study arm and the median follow-up period was 24 months. Patient characteristics were well-matched in the two treatment groups with regard to age (median age ~60), race (~91% white), performance status (~75%, PS = 0), histologic subtype (~80% serous), cytoreductive surgery (~11%), and platinum-free interval (defined as the time between finishing front-line platinum-based therapy and starting second-line chemotherapy) of more than 12 months (~60%). The study stratification variables were platinum-free interval (6 to 12 months vs. more than 12) and cytoreductive surgery for recurrent disease (yes vs. no).

The median number of chemotherapy cycles was six for each group, and a median of 11 cycles of bevacizumab or placebo was given. At least one-third of the patients received more than six cycles of carboplatin and gemcitabine, although slightly more of the placebo-treated group continued chemotherapy beyond six cycles.

Progression-free survival was significantly longer for women given bevacizumab (12.4 months vs. 8.4 months in the placebo-treated group (hazard ratio [HR]: 0.484; 95% confidence interval (CI) [0.388, 0.605]; p < 0.0001). These results were corroborated by the analyses of an independent review committee. Analyses according to platinum-free interval, cytoreductive surgery, age, and baseline performance status indicate a consistent benefit in all subgroups.

Objective response rate increased by 21.1% (p < 0.0001), from 57.4% in the placebo group to 78.5% in the bevacizumab treated group; duration of response increased from a median of 7.4 months to 10.4 months, respectively (HR: 0.534; 95% CI [0.408, 0.698]; p < 0.0001). Overall survival data are still premature, with median survival of 29.9 months in the placebo group and 35.5 months in the bevacizumab treatment group.

Sixty-five percent of the patients in the placebo group were withdrawn from the protocol due to disease progression, compared with only 41% of the treatment group, but 23% of the discontinuations in the bevacizumab group were due to adverse events, compared with only 5% in the placebo group. Much of this increase was due to grade 3 (or worse) adverse events; specifically hypertension and proteinuria associated with bevacizumab therapy. Overall, the safety profile of bevacizumab was consistent with past trials.

  • OCEANS Study Commentary

Dr. Aghajanian concluded that the OCEANS study results demonstrate a statistically significant and clinically relevant benefit when bevacizumab is added to carboplatin and gemcitabine. Aghajanian stated that this regimen should be considered a new option for the treatment of recurrent, platinum drug-sensitive ovarian cancer. As expected, the rate of adverse events was higher among patients who received bevacizumab, explained Dr. Aghajanian. “Hypertension and proteinuria were increased, but febrile neutropenia was the same in both arms.” “The safety data are reassuring and consistent with the known bevacizumab side-effect profile, and there were no new safety signals,” said Dr. Aghajanian.

“In advanced ovarian cancer, just as in advanced breast cancer, there is often an opportunity to intervene with different lines of chemotherapy,” said Andrew Seidman, M.D., attending physician for the breast cancer medicine service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and professor of medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. “There are many chapters in the story, so to speak,” said Dr. Seidman, who moderated a press briefing held in advance of the presentation. “We want to prolong each and every chapter in the disease, and make the story longer and ultimately improve survival. These trials results are certainly an important step in that direction.”

“Women with recurrent ovarian cancer need new treatment options, and it is therefore an important advance to halve the risk of disease progression in this incurable cancer,” said Hal Barron, M.D., chief medical officer and head of Roche Holdings Global Product Development. “These data add to the growing body of evidence supporting Avastin’s potential role in this disease, which includes two previously presented Phase III clinical trials [Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG)-218 [4] & ICON7] in women with newly diagnosed ovarian cancer.”

In his discussion of the study, Anil K. Sood, M.D., professor and director of the Blanton-Davis Ovarian Cancer Research Program in the Departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Biology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, suggested that further understanding of the timing and dosing of bevacizumab should be pursued in light of (i) its great financial cost, and (ii) reports that inhibition of angiogenesis in animal models reduces primary cancer tumor growth, but accelerates invasion and metastasis — unintended consequences that might be linked to the failure of bevacizumab to extend overall survival in most clinical trials.

ICON7 Phase III Clinical Study:  Newly-Diagnosed Women with High-Risk Ovarian Cancer Experience 36% Reduction in Risk of Death

Gunnar Kristensen M.D., Ph.D. speaks during the Women's Cancers Press Briefing at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting on June 4, 2011. (Photo: ASCO/GMG/Scott Morgan 2011)

ICON7 was designed to investigate safety and efficacy of adding bevacizumab to standard chemotherapy in women with newly diagnosed ovarian cancer. [5] Gunnar Kristensen, M.D, Ph.D., senior consultant in the Department for Gynecologic Oncology of the Norwegian Radium Hospital located in Oslo, reported the Phase III clinical study results.

  • About the ICON7 Study

From December 2006 to February 2009, 1,528 women were randomized from 263 centers in 7 Gynecologic Cancer InterGroups. Eligible women with high-risk early FIGO (Federation of International Gynecology and Obstetrics) stage I or IIa (grade 3 or clear cell histology), capped ≤10%) or advanced (stage IIb-IV) epithelial ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian tube cancer were randomizsed (1:1) to one of two study arms:

Arm A: 6 cycles of 3 weekly chemotherapy (carboplatin AUC 5 or 6 and paclitaxel 175mg/m2) alone;  or

Arm B: Same chemotherapy as in Arm A, given concurrently with bevacizumab (7.5mg/kg) for 5 or 6 cycles, followed by continued 3-weekly single-agent bevacizumab maintenance therapy for 12 additional cycles (up to 12 months) or until disease progression (whichever event occurs first).

The baseline patient characteristics were balanced between both study arms: median age (57 years); ECOG Performance Status 0-1 (47%); high-risk early-stage disease (9%); poor prognosis patients (30%); histology (69% serous, 8% endometrioid, 8% clear cell).

  • Updated ICON7 Progression Free Survival Data

Data from the ICON7 study were presented for the first time at the 2010 European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress. As reported at ESMO, chemotherapy-naïve ovarian cancer patients who received bevacizumab in combination with standard chemotherapy, and then continued with single agent bevacizumab maintenance therapy, experienced approximately 27% improvement (18.3 months versus 16 months) in the likelihood of living longer without the disease worsening (i.e., progression-free survival) compared to those women who received only chemotherapy (hazard ratio = 0.79, p=<0.0010), which corresponds to a 21% reduction in risk of cancer progression or death. The ICON7 data presented at ESMO was based upon mature progression-free survival results.

The updated ICON7 progression-free survival data presented at the ASCO annual meeting were consistent with the data reported last year at ESMO. In the updated analysis, women assigned to the bevacizumab arm experienced longer progression-free survival than those in the control group (19.8 months vs 17.4 months; HR, 0.87; p =.039). “There is a substantial prolongation of time to progression,” said Dr. Kristensen, adding that the gain was 2.4 months.

  • ICON7 Overall Survival Data Immature; But Clear Benefit To Women With “Poor Prognosis.” 

At a median follow-up of 28 months, there were fewer deaths among women who received bevacizumab than among those who received standard chemotherapy (178 vs 200). Although this represents a 15% overall reduction in mortality risk, the difference did not reach statistical significance (hazard ratio [HR], 0.85; P = .11). The final analyses for overall survival will be performed when 715 patient deaths have occurred. The current analysis was conducted because an interim analysis with at least 365 deaths was requested by the FDA and the European Medicines Agency for licensing consideration.

Although the overall survival data is not mature, a subgroup analysis of women with a “poor prognosis” (defined as FIGO stage III patients debulked to >1.0cm of visible diease or FIGO stage IV with debulking) was performed. Within this subgroup, there were 79 deaths within the bevacizumab arm and 109 deaths in the control arm. Based on this data, there was a 36% reduction in the risk of death (HR=0.64, 95% CI=0.48 to 0.85, p=0.0022 with p=0.015 for test for interaction (treatment/risk group)) among the poor prognosis subgroup.  This result was statistically significant. “We have previously shown that [the high-risk] group has a greater benefit from bevacizumab than the other patients,” said Dr. Kristensen. “For this group, there is a very clear gain for overall survival.”

  • ICON7 Study Commentary

“We conclude that the addition of concurrent and continued bevacizumab for 12 months does improve progression-free survival,” said Dr. Kristensen.  Kristensen also noted that, on the basis of an interim analysis involving approximately 53% of the number of deaths needed for the final analysis, there is an overall trend for improvement in overall survival.

“In this study, we see the ability of antiangiogenic therapy to delay the progression of ovarian cancer, this time in the first-line setting,” said Andrew Seidman, M.D. He added that previous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of bevacizumab in ovarian cancer. “These lend support to a potential role for bevacizumab as the first biologic agent to be used in this disease,” said Seidman, who moderated a press briefing during which study highlights were presented.

There are many strengths in a study like this, in that it addresses questions about the role of anti-VEGF therapies in this setting, said Anil Sood, M.D., who served as a discussant for this paper. “The randomized design is obviously a major strength.”

However, there are potential issues to examine, explained Dr. Sood. “One is the role of bevacizumab in the combination setting, compared with the maintenance setting.”

“How useful is bevacizumab in the combination setting up front? Is the real role for bevacizumab in the maintenance setting following initial chemotherapy,” he asked.

The issue of bevacizumab dosing was also raised by Dr. Sood. “One of the questions is whether higher doses are needed,” he said. “There are data emerging from other studies showing that lower doses are as efficacious, if not more so.”

References:

1/Rudlowski C, Pickart AK, Fuhljahn C, et. al. Prognostic significance of vascular endothelial growth factor expression in ovarian cancer patients: a long-term follow-up. Int J Gynecol Cancer. 2006 Jan-Feb;16 Suppl 1:183-9. PubMed PMID: 16515588.

2/Cooper BC, Ritchie JM, Broghammer CL, et. al. Preoperative serum vascular endothelial growth factor levels: significance in ovarian cancer. Clin Cancer Res. 2002 Oct;8(10):3193-7.  PMID: 12374688

3/Aghajanian C, Finkler NJ, Rutherford T, et. alOCEANS: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled phase III trial of chemotherapy with or without bevacizumab (BEV) in patients with platinum-sensitive recurrent epithelial ovarian (EOC), primary peritoneal (PPC), or fallopian tube cancer (FTC)J Clin Oncol 29: 2011 (suppl; abstr LBA5007)[2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting].

4/ Burger RA, Brady MF, Bookman MA, et. alPhase III trial of bevacizumab in the primary treatment of advanced epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC), primary peritoneal cancer (PPC), or fallopian tube cancer (FTC): a Gynecologic Oncology Group study [GOG 218 Abstract]J Clin Oncol 28:18s, 2010 (suppl; abstr LBA1).

5/Kristensen G, Perren T, Qian W., et. alResult of interim analysis of overall survival in the GCIG ICON7 phase III randomized trial of bevacizumab in women with newly diagnosed ovarian cancerJ Clin Oncol 29: 2011 (suppl; abstr LBA5006) [2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting].

Additional Sources & Helpful Information:

Bevacizumab (Avastin®) Clinical Trial Information

Related WORD of HOPE Ovarian Cancer Podcast™

Related Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ Postings

Related Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ Videos

  • To view videos regarding bevacizumab (Avastin®), click here.


2011 NCCN Conference: New Treatment Options Lead to Steady Progress Against Ovarian Cancer

Recommendations stemming from recent clinical trials highlight notable updates to the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines™) for Ovarian Cancer at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) 16th Annual Conference.

Robert J. Morgan, Jr., M.D., Professor of Medical Oncology, City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center; Chair, NCCN Guidelines Panel for Ovarian Cancer

Although finding effective screening tools remains a priority, new treatment options for women with ovarian cancer, such as the ones outlined in the updated NCCN Guidelines for Ovarian Cancer,[1] are vital to making steady progress against the disease according to Robert J. Morgan, Jr., M.D., of City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center and chair of the NCCN Guidelines Panel for Ovarian Cancer. Dr. Morgan outlined significant updates to the NCCN Guidelines during a recent presentation at the NCCN 16th Annual Conference.

The NCCN Guidelines address epithelial ovarian cancer (including borderline or low malignant potential) and less common histopathologies, including malignant germ neoplasms, carcinosarcomas, and sex cord-stromal tumors. They also discuss fallopian tube cancer and primary peritoneal cancer, which are less common neoplasms that are managed in a similar manner to epithelial ovarian cancer.

“Regardless of the type of cancer, the NCCN Guidelines for Ovarian Cancer reflect the importance of stage and grade of disease on prognosis and treatment recommendations,” said Dr. Morgan.

The NCCN Guidelines continue to recommend that women with borderline epithelial ovarian cancer of low malignant potential be primarily surgically managed. In contrast to patients with frankly invasive ovarian carcinoma, women with borderline disease tend to be younger and are often diagnosed with stage I disease.

“The benefits of postoperative chemotherapy has not been demonstrated for patients who have no microscopically demonstrable invasive implants, said Dr. Morgan. “Even patients with advanced stage disease at presentation have an excellent prognosis and chemotherapy should be avoided.”

The NCCN Guidelines recommend surgery limited to a unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (USO) (preserving the uterus and contralateral ovary) for women who wish to maintain their fertility, and standard ovarian cancer debulking surgery is recommended for those not concerned about fertility preservation.

On the contrary, in women diagnosed with stage II, III, or IV epithelial ovarian cancer, the NCCN Guidelines recommend intraperitoneal chemotherapy for first-line therapy and have been updated to include dose-dense paclitaxel (Taxol®:, Bristol-Myers Squibb) as a possible treatment option.

Dr. Morgan noted that in a recent clinical trial, dose-dense weekly paclitaxel with carboplatin (Paraplatin®:, Bristol-Myers Squibb) showed an increase in both progression-free survival and overall survival when compared with conventional intraperitoneal chemotherapy of weekly carboplatin/paclitaxel.[2]

“However, the dose-dense regimen is more toxic, and patients discontinued dose-dense paclitaxel therapy more often than those receiving standard therapy,” stated Dr. Morgan. “As with all treatment decisions, the patient needs to weigh the potential benefits and risks and discuss them thoroughly with their physician.”

Dr. Morgan discussed two additional phase 3 trials assessing bevacizumab (Avastin®:, Genentech/Roche) combined with carboplatin/paclitaxel in the upfront setting compared to carboplatin/paclitaxel alone.[3-4] Although data regarding overall survival and quality of life have not been reported yet, the studies did indicate that the median progression-free survival increased in patients receiving bevacizumab as a first line and maintenance therapy.

“Only modest improvements in progression-free survival were observed in both of these trials. The NCCN Guidelines Panel prefers to await mature results of these trials prior to recommending the routine addition of bevacizumab to carboplatin/paclitaxel,” said Dr. Morgan.

As such, the updated NCCN Guidelines includes new language detailing the Panel’s view on bevacizumab encouraging participation in ongoing clinical trials that are further investigating the role of anti-angiogenesis agents in the treatment of ovarian cancer, both in the upfront and recurrence settings.

Biomarkers continue to emerge as an area of interest in predicting future patterns of the disease. In patients with ovarian cancer, Dr. Morgan discussed the value of monitoring CA-125 levels in regards to a recent study[5] comparing early versus delayed treatment of relapsed ovarian cancer.

“Often, levels of CA-125 have been shown to rise prior to a clinical or symptomatic relapse in women with ovarian cancer. This trial looked at whether there was a benefit of early treatment on the basis of increased CA-125 concentrations compared with delayed treatment on the basis of clinical recurrence,” said Dr. Morgan.

The study, which was published in The Lancet, found that there was no survival benefit to early institution of treatment based on increased CA-125 levels and that the quality of life was superior in patients in the late treatment arm.

“The results of the trial suggest that the utility of the routine monitoring of CA-125 levels in limited,” said Dr. Morgan. “The NCCN Guidelines Panel encourages patients and their physicians to actively discuss the pros and cons of CA-125 monitoring based upon these findings and have updated the NCCN Guidelines to include language supporting this recommendation.”

Virtually all drugs used in oncology have the potential to cause adverse drug reactions while being infused, which can be classified as either infusion or allergic reactions. Recently, hypersensitivity to platinum compounds has been recognized as a potential issue for patients being administered these compounds.

“Platinum compounds remain very important in the treatment of ovarian cancer in both the upfront and recurrence settings, so it was important to design strategies to allow for the safe desensitization of these agents in patients who develop allergies,” said Dr. Morgan.

Standard desensitization regimens include slowly increasing infusion concentrations over several hours. However, Dr. Morgan noted that these procedures must be done in a specific manner in order to be safely administered and pointed to the recommendations within the updated NCCN Guidelines discussing the management of drug reactions.

In conclusion, Dr. Morgan emphasized that although steady progress is being made in the treatment of ovarian cancer, further trials are necessary to investigate the role of targeted agents alone and in combination in newly diagnosed and recurrent ovarian cancer. In addition, enrollment of patients with ovarian cancer must be encouraged.

The NCCN Guidelines are developed and updated through an evidence-based process with explicit review of the scientific evidence integrated with expert judgment by multidisciplinary panels of expert physicians from NCCN Member Institutions. The most recent version of this and all NCCN Guidelines are available free of charge at NCCN.org. The NCCN Guidelines for Patients™: Ovarian Cancer is available at NCCN.com.

About the National Comprehensive Cancer Network

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®), a not-for-profit alliance of 21 of the world’s leading cancer centers, is dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of care provided to patients with cancer. Through the leadership and expertise of clinical professionals at NCCN Member Institutions, NCCN develops resources that present valuable information to the numerous stakeholders in the health care delivery system. As the arbiter of high-quality cancer care, NCCN promotes the importance of continuous quality improvement and recognizes the significance of creating clinical practice guidelines appropriate for use by patients, clinicians, and other health care decision-makers. The primary goal of all NCCN initiatives is to improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of oncology practice so patients can live better lives. For more information, visit NCCN.org.

The NCCN Member Institutions are:

  • City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center
  • Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
  • Duke Cancer Institute
  • Fox Chase Cancer Center
  • Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah
  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center / Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
  • The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins
  • Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
  • H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute
  • The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute
  • Roswell Park Cancer Institute
  • Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine
  • St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital / University of Tennessee Cancer Institute
  • Stanford Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • UNMC Eppley Cancer Center at The Nebraska Medical Center
  • The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center

References:

1/ Ovarian Cancer Including Fallopian Tube Cancer & Primary Peritoneal Cancer, Version 2.2011, NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines™), National Comprehensive Cancer Network. [PDF Adobe Reader Document – requires free registration and log-in at NCCN.org]

2/ Katsumata N, Yasuda M, Takahashi F, et. alJapanese Gynecologic Oncology Group. Dose-dense paclitaxel once a week in combination with carboplatin every 3 weeks for advanced ovarian cancer: a phase 3, open-label, randomised controlled trialLancet. 2009 Oct 17;374(9698):1331-8. Epub 2009 Sep 18. PubMed PMID: 19767092.

3/ Burger RA, Brady MF, Bookman MA, et. al.  Phase III trial of bevacizumab in the primary treatment of advanced epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC), primary peritoneal cancer (PPC), or fallopian tube cancer (FTC):  a Gynecologic Oncology Group study.  J Clin Oncol 28:18s, 2010 (suppl; abstr LBA1).

4/ Perren T, Swart AM, Pfisterer J, et. alICON7: A phase III randomized gynecologic cancer intergroup trial of concurrent bevacizumab and chemotherapy followed by maintenance bevacizumab, versus chemotherapy alone in women with newly diagnosed epithelial ovarian (EOC), primary peritoneal (PPC), or fallopian tube cancer (FTC).Ann Oncol 21;viii2, 2010 (suppl 8; abstr LBA4).

5/Rustin G, van der Burg M, Griffin C, et. al. Early versus delayed treatment of relapsed ovarian cancer. Lancet. 2011 Jan 29;377(9763):380-1. PubMed PMID: 21277438.

Source:

Additional 2011 NCCN Annual Meeting Information

Ohio State University Reports That Ovarian Cancer Drug Bevacizumab Is Not Cost-Effective

An analysis conducted by Ohio State University cancer researchers found that adding the targeted therapy bevacizumab to the first-line treatment of patients with advanced ovarian cancer is not cost effective.

An analysis conducted by Ohio State University cancer researchers found that adding the targeted therapy bevacizumab [Avastin®] to the first-line treatment of patients with advanced ovarian cancer is not cost-effective.

The findings comparing the relative value of various clinical strategies were published online March 7 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO).

Dr. David E. Cohn is a gynecologic oncologist & researcher at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital & Richard J. Solove Research Institute. He is also the lead author of the bevacizumab cost-effectiveness study.

The researchers performed a cost-effectiveness analysis looking at a clinical trial conducted by the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) studying the use of bevacizumab along with standard chemotherapy for patients with advanced ovarian cancer, said first author Dr. David E. Cohn, a gynecologic surgical oncologist and researcher at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Bevacizumab is a novel targeted therapy designed to inhibit angiogenesis, the process by which new blood vessels develop and carry vital nutrients to a tumor.

Although a discussion regarding cost-effectiveness of a potentially life-extending intervention invariably suggests the rationing of limited health care resources, the intent of this study was to provide a framework with which to evaluate the pending results of a clinical trial of three different interventions for ovarian cancer, said Cohn.

“We do not suggest that bevacizumab, also known by the brand name Avastin, should be withheld from a patient with ovarian cancer, but rather argue that studies evaluating the effectiveness of new treatments should also be interpreted with consideration of the expense,” says Cohn, who collaborated with Dr. J. Michael Straughn Jr., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The results of the randomized phase III [GOG 218] clinical trial demonstrated an additional 3.8 months of progression-free survival (PFS) when maintenance bevacizumab was added for about one year following treatment with standard chemotherapy drugs carboplatin and paclitaxel along with bevacizumab.

“We put together a model looking at the variety of treatment arms on this clinical trial, each of which included 600 patients,” said Cohn. “Given the fact that the addition of the drug was associated with 3.8 months of additional survival without cancer, we set out to determine whether or not that benefit of survival was justified by the expense of the drug.”

The model showed that standard chemotherapy for patients in the clinical trial would cost $2.5 million, compared to $78.3 million for patients who were treated with standard chemotherapy and bevacizumab, plus additional maintenance treatments of bevacizumab for almost one year.

Bevacizumab has been used in the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved it for the treatment of colorectal, lung, breast, brain (glioblastoma) and renal cell [kidney] cancers.

Typically each treatment with bevacizumab costs $5,000, with most of those costs directly attributable to the cost of the drug, Cohn said.

Effectiveness was defined as months of progression-free survival, and costs were calculated as total costs per strategy. Cost-effectiveness strategies were defined as the cost per year of progression-free survival. Incremental cost-effectiveness ratio was defined as the costs per progression-free year of life saved.

“Ultimately, we found that if you reduced the drug cost to 25 percent of the baseline, it does become cost effective to treat patients with bevacizumab,” said Cohn. “Or, if the survival could be substantially increased above the 3.8 months of progression-free survival, that could lead to cost-effective treatment for patients with advanced ovarian cancer.”

Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecologic cancer, with almost 14,000 women expected to die from the disease this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

“It is anticipated that in the future, there will be increased scrutiny regarding the individual and societal costs of an effective medication,” said Cohn. “We hope that future clinical trials will incorporate the prospective collection of cost, toxicity and quality-of-life data to allow for a fully informed interpretation of the results.”

Other Ohio State researchers involved in the study are Kenneth H. Kim, Kimberly E. Resnick and David O’Malley.

Big Cost For Little Gain in Ovarian Cancer – JCO Editorial

Results of the cost-effectiveness model reported above by Cohen et. al. reveal that paclitaxel plus carboplatin plus bevacizumab, followed by bevacizumab maintenance (PCB-B), as tested in the GOG 218 phase III clinical trial, costs $78.3 million ($1,305,000 per patient) with an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of $401,088 per progression-free year of life saved. It is important to note that traditional cost-effectiveness study models utilize the costs of improvements in overall survival, as compared to the traditional cost-effective standard of $50,000 per year of life saved, or more recently, $100,000 per year of life saved.  Cohen et. al. found that the traditional standard of $100,000 per progression free year of life saved can be achieved in calculating the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio, but only at a bevacizumab drug price point that is 25% below the actual drug cost.

Martee L. Hensley, M.D., Gynecologic Medical Oncology Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

In an accompanying JCO editorial, Martee L. Hensley, M.D., a board-certified medical oncologist who treats women with gynecologic cancers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York city, raises several important considerations with respect to the Ohio State University study.

First, Dr. Hensley notes that the “costs” accounted for by the Ohio State University researchers only refer to the additional monies incurred by adding bevacizumab to the standard of care paclitaxel-carboplatin treatment.  Specifically, the researchers used a standard cost metholodolgy based upon estimates of drug costs using Medicare reimbursement rates.  The model used does not include indirect costs (e.g., patient out-of-pocket expenses, time lost from work associated with 51 weeks of bevacizumab maintenance, etc.). The only costs related to toxicity of treatment included by researchers were those associated with management of intestinal perforations. Dr. Hensley highlights the fact that the cost model does not include management of grade 2 or worse hypertension or other potential problems that may be caused by bevacizumab or the other chemotherapy drugs.  To the extent that additional costs are added to the model, the cost-effectiveness ratio generated by the researchers would worsen.

Second, Dr. Hensley explains that out of necessity, the researchers’ cost-effectiveness model used PFS data due to the unavailability of overall survival or quality adjusted overall survival data in connection with the three most recent bevacizumab phase III clinical trials. This model construct assumes that the 3.8 month improvement in PFS (as reported by the GOG 218 trial investigators)  provides an improvement in the patient’s experience. Dr. Hensley emphasizes that most ovarian cancer recurrences are identified while the patient is still asymptomatic, with the help of CA-125 blood testing and computed tomography imaging (i.e., CT scan).  Stated differently, it may not be correct to assume that remaining radiographically progression-free for an addtional 3.8 months would improve a patient’s quality of life.  If GOG 218 ultimately finds that PCB-B does not improve overall survival, then the drug’s cost-effectiveness will drift farther away from an acceptable level, says Hensley.

Third, Dr. Hensley points out that only when PFS associated with PCB-B use was hypothetically extended to 32.1 months (observed PFS in GOG 218 was 14.1 months) by the researchers did the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio approach $100,000 per progression-free year of life saved.  Hensley believes that the bevacizumab data accrued to date suggests that a 32.1 month PFS is unlikely. Notably, median PFS is only 24 months among lower-risk patients with optimally debulked stage III ovarian cancer treated with intraperitoneal-based platinum drug/taxane drug therapy.

Fourth, Dr. Hensley explains that it may be possible to achieve a better incremental cost-effectiveness ratio based upon preliminary data derived from the Gynaecologic Cancer Intergroup (GCIG) phase III randomized clinical trail of paclitaxel plus carboplatin, with or without bevacizumab and bevacizumab maintenace therapy (ICON7 trial). The bevacizumab dose tested in ICON7 was only half of that used in GOG 218 (7.5 mg/kg versus 15 mg/kg), and the duration of maintenance therapy in ICON7 was only 36 weeks of continued treatment as compared to 51 weeks in GOG 218. Preliminary results reported by the GCIG in ICON7 indicate that bevacizumab creates a PFS advantage in line with that produced in GOG 218, but at half the dose. Based on these facts, Hensley states that potential use of lower-dose and shorter-duration bevacizumab would improve the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio. Moreover, if lower dose/shorter duration bevacizumab use is also found to reduce the frequency of grade 2 or worse hypertension, the overall costs associated with the drug would also be lower, says Hensley.

Dr. Hensley believes that there are additional steps to be taken (and questions to be answered) which could improve an evaluation of the role and costs of bevacizumab:

  • Is there a clinically meaningful overall survival advantage to PCB-B over paclitaxel plus carboplatin? If PCB-B is not effective, then by definition, it is not cost-effective.
  • Is the data from ICON7 sufficient to permit treatment at half the dose for 9 months instead of 12 months? If so, total bevacizumab costs would be lower.
  • Is there a subset of patients who benefit dramatically from PCB-B?
  • If there is a subset of patients who benefit dramatically from PCB-B, it is necessary to study this group of women to determine if potential biomarkers can identify which patients will or will not benefit from the addition of bevacizumab. Identifying biomarkers that can predict response means commitment to correlative studies as part of large clinical trials.

In sum, Dr. Hensley believes that buying bevacizumab at $78.3 million for 3.8 months of progression-free survival on behalf of approximately 600 women is not sustainable in today’s health care delivery system. Moreover, the incurrence of such costs may hinder basic clinical research to find better compounds that improve PFS by a more meaningful magnitude, says Dr. Hensley.  From Hensley’s perspective, it appears that the stage is set for a potential collision between medicine and policy with respect to where and how a finite number of health care dollars will be spent.

About the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (cancer.osu.edu) is one of only 40 Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States designated by the National Cancer Institute. Ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top cancer hospitals in the nation, The Arthur G. James Hospital is the 205-bed adult patient-care component of the cancer program at The Ohio State University. The OSUCCC – James is one of only seven funded programs in the country approved by the NCI to conduct both phase I and II clinical trials.

Sources:

British Columbian Researchers Make Groundbreaking Genetic Discovery In Endometriosis-Associated Ovarian Cancers

British Columbian researchers discover that approximately one-half of clear-cell ovarian cancers and one-third of endometrioid ovarian cancers possess ARID1A gene mutations, as reported today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

British Columbian researchers discover that approximately one-half of ovarian clear-cell cancers (OCCC) and one-third of endometrioid ovarian cancers possess ARID1A (AT-rich interactive domain 1A (SWI-like)) gene mutations, as reported today in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The research paper is entitled ARID1A Mutations in Endometriosis-Associated Ovarian Carcinomas, and represents, in large part, the collaborative work of Drs. David Hunstman and Marco Marra.

Dr. David Huntsman, Co-Founder & Acting Director, Ovarian Cancer Research Program of British Columbia

Dr. Marco Marra, Director, Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, British Columbia Cancer Agency

David Huntsman, M.D., FRCPC, FCCMG, is a world-renowned genetic pathologist, and the Co-Founder and Acting Director of the Ovarian Cancer Research Program of British Columbia (OvCaRe). He also heads the Centre for Translational and Applied Genomics, located in the British Columbia (BC) Cancer Agency’s Vancouver Centre.  Dr. Huntsman is the Co-Director of the Genetic Pathology Evaluation Centre, Vancouver General Hospital, and the Associate Director of the Hereditary Cancer Program, BC Cancer Agency. He is involved in a broad range of translational cancer research and, as the OvCaRe team leader, has studied the genetic and molecular structure of ovarian cancer for many years. In June 2009, the NEJM published one of Dr. Huntsman’s most recent groundbreaking discoveries:  the identification of  mutations in the FOXL2 gene as the molecular basis of adult granulosa cell ovarian cancer tumors.

Marco Marra, Ph.D. is the Director of the BC Cancer Agency’s Michael Smith* Genome Sciences Centre (GSC) , one of eight BC Cancer Agency specialty laboratories. Dr. Marra is internationally recognized as a preeminent leader in the field of genetics.  His leadership has helped transform the GSC into one of the world’s most advanced and productive centers for development and application of genomics, bioinformatics and related technologies. The work of the GSC , along with collaborations involving the BC Cancer Agency and other local, national and international researchers and organizations, have led to several major scientific breakthroughs over the past decade.

*Dr. Michael Smith won the 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his development of oligonucleotide-based site-directed mutagenesis, a technique which allows the DNA sequence of any gene to be altered in a designated manner. His technique created an groundbreaking method for studying complex protein functions, the basis underlying a protein’s three-dimensional structure, and a protein’s interaction with other molecules inside the cell.

Tackling Ovarian Cancer, “One Subtype At a Time”

In December 2008, the OvCaRe team announced an important discovery about the genetics of ovarian cancer – that instead of being one single disease, it is made up of a spectrum of distinct diseases. “Until now,” says OvCaRe team leader David Huntsman, “ovarian cancer has been treated as a single disease both in the cancer clinic and the research lab.” This may help explain why there have been many fewer advances in ovarian cancer research and treatment than for other cancer types.

On the heels of this important finding, Huntsman says his team decided to tackle ovarian cancers “one subtype at a time.” For its first target, the team chose granulosa cell ovarian tumors, which account for five percent of ovarian tumors and have no known drug treatments. Working with research colleagues at the GSC, Huntsman’s team used the latest genomic sequencing equipment to decipher the genetic code of this ovarian cancer subtype.

“[T]en years ago, ovarian cancer appeared to be an unsolvable problem—the liberating moment came when we established that ovarian cancer is actually a number of distinct diseases … We tailor our research approach to each subtype with the hope of developing effective treatments specific to each disease.”

Dr. David Huntsman, Co-Founder & Acting Director, Ovarian Cancer Research Program of British Columbia.

The genomic sequencing study results were illuminating, says Huntsman, as the research team was able to identify “a single ‘spelling mistake’ in this tumor’s DNA.” Still, Huntsman is buoyed by the promise of this research and its potential to save lives. “We’ve had dozens of letters and emails from women around the world with granulosa cell tumors, who’ve written to thank us saying this discovery has given them hope they never thought they would have. Reading these letters has been both incredibly humbling and inspiring for our team.” Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ reported Dr. Huntsman’s critical ovarian cancer discovery on June 10, 2009.

The OvCaRe team’s research findings have already been used to advance the care of BC patient Barbara Johns, a fourth grade teacher whose granulosa cell tumor was surgically removed in February 2009. “This could lead to new non-surgical treatment options for patients with this type of cancer,” says Johns, who was the first patient to benefit from the new diagnostic test. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

Listen to a brief audio excerpt taken from an interview with Dr. David Huntsman, in which he explains why this is an exciting time for ovarian cancer research.

The Ovarian Cancer Research Program of British Columbia

Select NEJM Article Authors (left to right): Drs. Sohrab Shah, David Huntsman, Dianne Miller, C. Blake Gilks

OvCaRe, a multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary ovarian cancer research group, was developed as a collaboration between the BC Cancer Agency, the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, and the University of British Columbia.  The OvCaRe program includes clinicians and research scientists from Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) and the BC Cancer Agency, who specialize in gynecology, pathology, and medical oncology. As noted above, Dr. Huntsman leads the OvCaRe team as its Co-Founder and Acting Director.

A team approach has ensured the building of translational research platforms, accessible to all OvCaRe team members regardless of institutional affiliation or medical/scientific discipline. The OvCaRe program research platforms include a gynecologic cancer tumor bank, the Cheryl Brown Ovarian Cancer Outcomes Unit, a tissue microarray core facility for biomarker studies, a xenograft core facility for testing experimental therapeutics, and a genomics informatics core facility. OvCaRe is developing two additional core facilities to improve knowledge dissemination and clinical trials capacity.

Although OvCaRe was formed less than ten years ago, the team has been recognized for several groundbreaking medical and scientific discoveries related to the understanding and management of ovarian cancer. The significant discoveries reported within the past two years are listed below.

  • Proved that various subtypes of ovarian ovarian are distinct diseases, and reported that potential treatment advances depend on both clinically managing and researching these subtypes as separate entities (2008)( PMID: 19053170).
  • Identified mutations in the FOXL2 gene as the molecular basis of adult granulosa cell ovarian cancer tumors using next generation sequencing – the first clinically relevant discovery made with this new technology (2009)(PMID: 19516027).
  • Discovered that women with earlier stage ovarian clear-cell cancer may benefit from lower abdominal radiation therapy (2010)(PMID: 20693298).

In many cases, these contributions have already led to changes in clinical practice in British Columbia. The international reputation of Vancouver’s OvCaRe team ensures that the positive impact of these changes is felt immediately throughout British Columbia, while also being emulated in other jurisdictions worldwide.  These contributions were made possible due to the population-based cancer system in British Columbia and strong support from the BC Cancer Foundation and the Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) & University of British Columbia (UBC) Hospital Foundation.

Background:  Ovarian Clear-Cell Cancer

Ovarian cancer ranks as the 5th deadliest cancer among U.S. women.[1] There are four general subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer — serous, clear-cell, endometrioid, and mucinous.[2] High-grade serous ovarian cancer is the most common and represent approximately 70% of all cases of epithelial ovarian cancer in North America. [3]

The OCCC subtype represents 12 percent of ovarian cancers in North America; however, it represents up to 20 percent of ovarian cancers diagnosed in Japan and other East Asian countries. [3,4] OCCC possesses unique clinical features such as a high incidence of stage I disease, a large pelvic mass, an increased incidence of vascular thromboembolic complications, and hypercalcemia. [4-6] Both OCCC and endometrioid ovarian cancer are frequently associated with endometriosis. [4-6] The genetic events associated with the transformation of endometriosis into ovarian clear-cell cancer and endometrioid cancer are unknown.

Clear cell carcinoma of the ovary

OCCC does not respond well to the standard platinum and taxane-based ovarian cancer chemotherapy: response rates are 15 per cent compared to 80 per cent for the most common type of ovarian cancer, high-grade serous ovarian cancer. [4-6] However, the exact mechanisms underlying OCCC’s resistance to chemotherapy is not fully understood. Although several mechanisms involved in drug resistance exist in OCCC, including decreased drug accumulation, increased drug detoxification, increased DNA repair activity [4-6], and low proliferation activity[4]; no particular chemoresistance system has been identified. Due to the general chemoresistant nature of OCCC, it is generally stated that the prognosis for advanced-stage or recurrent OCCC is poor. [3, 7-8] The prognosis for OCCC that is diagnosed in Stage I, and treated by complete cytoreduction that results in little or no residual disease, is usually good. [8-10]

Although OCCC is the second leading cause of death from ovarian cancer, it is relatively understudied by the medical and research community. Despite this fact, there have been a few important studies involving this subtype of ovarian cancer.

Various researchers have long noted that OCCC has a distinct genetic profile, as compared to other types of epithelial ovarian cancer.[6, 11-14] Gene expression profiling can serve as a powerful tool to determine biological relationships, if any, between tumors.  In fact, National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) researchers observed that clear-cell cancers share similarity in gene expression profiles, regardless of the human organ of origin (including kidney), and could not be statistically distinguished from one another. [13] The researchers found that the same was not true for the non-OCCC forms of epithelial ovarian cancer.  Several investigators have made similar observations. [14-16] It is important to note, however, that there are significant genetic differences between OCCC and renal clear-cell cancer (RCCC).  For example, abnormalities of the VHL (Von Hippel-Lindau)/HIF1-α (Hypoxia-inducible factor 1-alphapathway have been identified in the majority of RCCC cases, but not in OCCC cases. [17, 18]

The basic finding that clear-cell tumors show remarkably similar gene expression patterns regardless of their organ of origin is provocative.  This NCI/MSKCC study finding raises the question of whether therapies used to treat RCCC would be effective against OCCC.  Targeted-therapies such as VEGFR inhibitors (e.g., sunitinib (Sutent®)), PDGFR inhibitors (e.g., sorafenib (Nexavar®)), m-TOR inhibitors (e.g., temsirolimus (Torisel®) & everolimus (Afinitor®)), and anti-angiogenesis drugs (e.g., bevacizumab (Avastin®)) are used to treat RCCC. Notably, Fox Chase Cancer Center researchers performed preclinical testing of everolimus on ovarian cancer cell lines and xenografted mice and observed significant anti-tumor activity. [19, 20] The Division of Clinical Gynecologic Oncology at the Massachusetts General Hospital also observed the anti-tumor effect of sunitinib in one refractory OCCC patient that recurred after nine years and four prior treatment lines. [21] Japanese researchers have also highlighted this potential approach to fighting OCCC. [22-25]

All of the above-mentioned drugs used to treat RCCC are currently being tested in ovarian cancer and solid tumor clinical studies.  Accordingly, these drugs are generally available to advanced-stage and recurrent OCCC patients who do not respond to prior taxane/platinum therapy and other standard lines of treatment, assuming such patients satisfy all clinical study enrollment criteria. [26-30]

In a 2009 study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), it was discovered that approximately one-third of OCCCs contained PIK3CA (phosphoinositide-3-kinase, catalytic, alpha polypeptide) gene mutations. [31] Testing patients with cancer for PIK3CA gene mutations may be feasible and allow targeted treatment of the PI3K-AKTmTOR cellular signaling pathway, according to the results of a University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center study presented at the 2009 AACR (American Association for Cancer Research)-NCI-EORTC (European Organization For Research & Treatment of Cancer) International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics. [31] The M.D. Anderson study results may carry great significance in the future because there are several PI3K signaling pathway targeting drugs in clinical development for use against ovarian cancer and solid tumors. [32]

Also in 2009, researchers affiliated with UCLA, the Mayo Clinic, and Harvard Medical School announced that they established a biological rationale to support the clinical study of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved leukemia drug dasatinib (Sprycel®), either alone or in combination with chemotherapy, in patients with ovarian cancer (including OCCC). [33]

In August 2010, Dr. Ken Swenerton, a senior OvCaRe team member and co-leader of OvCaRe’s Cheryl Brown Ovarian Cancer Outcomes Unit, reported provocative findings relating to the use of adjuvant radiotherapy to fight OCCC. [34] Dr. Swenerton is also a co-chair of the NCI Gynecologic Cancer Steering Committee (GCSC) Ovarian Cancer Task Force.  The NCI GCSC determines all phase III clinical trials for gynecologic cancers in the U.S. and other jurisdictions. The population-based, retrospective study conducted by OvCaRe reported that a 40 percent decrease in disease specific mortality was associated with adjuvant radiotherapy administered to women with stage I (other than grade 1 tumors), II, & III clear-cell, endometrioid, and mucinous ovarian cancers, who possessed no residual (macroscopic) disease following complete cytoreductive surgery. Although the study dataset was too small to discriminate effects among the clear-cell, endometrioid and mucinous ovarian cancer histologies, the overall results highlight the curative potential of adjuvant radiotherapy in select non-serous ovarian cancer patients.  Moreover, there is limited scientific and anecdotal evidence set forth in past studies that supports the select use of radiotherapy against OCCC. [35-38]

BRCA 1 (BReast CAncer gene 1) & BRCA 2 (BReast CAncer gene 2) mutations increase a woman’s lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer. [39] In at least one small study, BRCA2 germline (inherited) and somatic (non-inherited) gene mutations were identified in 46 percent of the OCCC samples tested. [40] This provocative study brings into question the potential use of PARP (Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase) inhibitors against OCCC in select patients. [41] PARP inhibitors have shown effectiveness against germline BRCA gene mutated ovarian cancers, [42, 43] and may be effective against somatic BRCA gene mutated ovarian cancers. [44, 45]

International researchers continue to identify theoretical therapeutic drug targets for OCCC. These targets include:  IGF2BP3 (insulin-like growth factor 2 mRNA-binding protein 3) [46], HNF-1beta (hepatocyte nuclear factor-1beta) [47], annexin A4  [48], GPC3(Glypican-3) [49], osteopontin [50], sFRP5 (secreted frizzled-related protein 5) [51], VCAN (versican) [52], transcription factor POU6F1 (POU class 6 homeobox 1) [53], and microRNA mir-100 [54].

Although researchers have identified that OCCC is distinct from high-grade serous carcinoma, OCCC-specific biomarkers and treatments have not been broadly adopted. Despite the theoretical approaches and study results highlighted above, there are no definitive (i.e., clinically-proven) anti-cancer agents for OCCC, and without understanding the molecular basis of this ovarian cancer subtype in much greater detail, the development of more targeted therapies is unlikely.

NEJM ARID1A Study Methodology

The OvCaRe team research consisted of four major analyses as described below.

  • RNA Sequencing of OCCC Tumor Samples and Cell Line (Discovery Cohort)

By way of background, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the genetic material that contains the instructions used in the development and functioning of our cells. DNA is generally stored in the nucleus of our cells. The primary purpose of DNA molecules is the long-term storage of information. Often compared to a recipe or a code, DNA is a set of blueprints that contains the instructions our cells require to construct other cell components, such as proteins and RNA (ribonucleic acid) molecules. The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes.

RNA is the genetic material that transcribes (i.e., copies) DNA instructions and translates them into proteins.  It is RNA’s job to transport the genetic information out of the cell’s nucleus and use it as instructions for building proteins.  The so-called “transcriptome” consists of all RNA molecules within our cells, including messenger RNA (mRNA), transfer RNA (tRNA), and ribosomal RNA (rRNA). The sequence of RNA mirrors the sequence of the DNA from which it was transcribed or copied. Consequently, by analyzing the entire collection of RNAs (i.e., the transcriptome) in a cell, researchers can determine when and where each gene is turned on or off in our cells and tissues.  Unlike DNA, the transcriptome can vary with external environmental conditions. Because it includes all mRNA transcripts in the cell, the transcriptome reflects the genes that are being actively expressed at any given time.

A gene is essentially a sentence made up of the bases A (adenine), T (thymine), G (guanine), and C (cytosine) that describes how to make a protein.  Any change in the sequence of bases — and therefore in the protein instructions — is a mutation. Just like changing a letter in a sentence can change the sentence’s meaning, a mutation can change the instruction contained in the gene.  Any changes to those instructions can alter the gene’s meaning and change the protein that is made, or how or when a cell makes that protein.

Gene mutations can (i) result in a protein that cannot carry out its normal function in the cell, (ii) prevent the protein from being made at all, or (iii) cause too much or too little of a normal protein to be made.

The first study analysis involved the RNA sequencing of 18 patient OCCC tumors and 1 OCCC cell line.  The primary purpose of this step was to discover any prevalent genetic mutations within the sample tested.  Specifically, the research team sequenced the whole transcriptomes of the OCCC tumors and the single OCCC cell line and discovered  a variety of somatic (non-inherited) mutations in the ARID1A gene.  The researchers also found mutations in CTNNB1(catenin beta-1 gene), KRAS (v-Ki-ras2 Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homologue gene), and PIK3CA (phosphoinositide-3-kinase, catalytic, alpha polypeptide gene).

ARID1A encodes the BAF250a protein, a key component of the SWI-GNF chromatin remodeling complex which regulates many cellular processes, including development, differentiation, proliferation, DNA repair, and tumor suppression. [55] The BAF250a protein encoded by ARID1A is believed to confer specificity in regulation of gene expression.

To date, mutations or other aberrations in ARID1A have not been identified in ovarian cancer, but have been identified in breast and lung cancer cell lines. [56] Other researchers have suggested that ARID1A is a tumor-suppressor gene. [56]

  • DNA Sequencing of OCCC Tumor Samples and Cell Lines (Discovery Cohort + Mutation Validation Cohort)

The finding of multiple types of mutations in a single gene, ARID1A, within the discovery cohort, led researchers to perform a mutation validation analysis.  The researchers only conducted analyses with respect to ARID1A, because it was already known that mutations in CTNNB1, KRAS, and PIK3CA are recurrent in ovarian cancer. [31, 57]

This step of the research involved DNA sequencing of 210 samples of various subtypes of ovarian cancer and one OCCC cell line, along with the 18 OCCC tumor samples and one OCCC cell line used in the discovery cohort. Upon completion of the DNA sequencing, the researchers identified ARID1A mutations in 55 of 119 (46%) OCCCs, 10 of 33 (30%) endometrioid cancers, and none of the 76 high-grade serous cancers. Also, the researchers found primarly somatic (non-inherited) truncating mutations.

Based on the second study analysis, the researchers report that the presence of ARID1A mutations are strongly associated with OCCCs and endometrioid cancers.  These two subtypes of ovarian cancer, as noted above, are associated with endometriosis.

  • Testing For BAF250a Protein Expression

In the third study analysis, the researchers used immunohistochemical analysis (IHC) to measure BAF250a protein expression in 450 ovarian cancers.

The first round of IHC testing involved 182 ovarian cancers which were available from the discovery cohorts and the mutation-validation cohorts: 73 OCCCs, 33 endometrioid cancers, and 76 high-grade serous ovarian cancers.  The goal of the first IHC analysis was to compare the loss of BAF250a protein expression in OCCCs and endometrioid cancers, with and without ARID1A mutations. Upon completion, the researchers identified loss of BAF250a protein expression in 27 of 37 (73%) OCCCs, and 5 of 10 (50%) endometrioid cancers, which possessed ARID1A mutations. In contrast, loss of BAF250a protein expression was identified in only 4 of 36 (11%) OCCCs, and 2 of 23  (9%) endometrioid cancers, which did not possess ARID1A mutations. Thus, the loss of BAF250a protein expression was much greater in OCCCs and endometrioid cancers with ARID1A mutations.

The goal of the second IHC analysis was to compare loss of BAF250a protein expression among all OCCCs, endometrioid cancers, and high-grade serous cancers. The researchers identified loss of BAF250a protein expression in 31 of 73 (42%) OCCCs, and 7 of 33 (21%) endometrioid cancers, as compared to 1 of 76 (1%) high-grade serous cancers. Thus, the loss of BAF250a protein expression was much greater in the OCCCs and endometrioid cancers, as compared to high-grade serous cancers, regardless of ARID1A mutation status.

The second round of IHC testing measured loss of BAF250a protein expression within the IHC validation cohort. This analysis revealed that 55 of 132 (42%) OCCCs, 39 of 125 (31%) endometrioid cancers, and 12 of 198 (6%) high-grade serous cancers, lost BAF250a protein expression.

By the end of IHC testing, the researchers established that the loss of BAF250a protein expression was consistently more common in OCCCs and endometrioid cancers than in high-grade serous cancers, when assessed in the discovery and mutation-validation cohorts, and again in the IHC cohort.

The researchers also reported that no significant associations with loss of BAF250a protein expression were noted on the basis of age at disease presentation, disease stage, or disease-specific survival within any of the ovarian cancer subtypes.

  • Analysis of ARID1A Gene Mutations & BAF250a Protein Expression In Continguous Atypical Endometriosis

The fourth study analysis evaluated samples taken from two OCCC patients who had ARID1A mutations and contiguous atypical endometriosis. In both instances, the patient sample included the primary OCCC tumor, clones derived from contiguous atypical endometriosis, and clones derived from a distant endometriotic lesion.

In the first patient, ARID1A mutations were identified in the OCCC tumor, and 17 of 42 clones derived from contiguous atypical endometriosis, but in none of the 52 clones derived from a distant endometriotic lesion. The samples taken from this patient’s OCCC tumor and atypical endometriosis revealed loss of BAF250a protein expression; however, expression was maintained in the distant endometriotic lesion. HNF-1beta was expressed in the OCCC tumor, but not in the contiguous atypical or distant endometriosis. Estrogen receptor expression tested positive in both the contiguous atypical and distant endometriosis, but not in the OCCC tumor.

In the second patient, ARID1A mutations and a CTNNB1 mutation were identified in the OCCC tumor and contiguous atypical endometriosis, but not in a distant endometriotic lesion.

Results Summary

Based on the foregoing discussion, the major OvCaRe study findings are summarized below.

  • 46% of patients with OCCC and 30% of those with endometrioid cancers had somatic (non-inherited) truncating or missense mutation in the ARID1A gene.
  • No ARID1A mutations were identified in the 76 high-grade serous cancers analyzed.
  • Loss of BAF250a protein expression was identified in 36% of OCCCs and endometrioid cancers, but in only 1% of high-grade serous cancers.
  • Loss of BAF250a protein expression was seen in 73% and 50% of OCCCs and endometrioid cancers with an ARID1A mutation, respectively, and in only 11% and 9% of samples without ARID1A mutations, respectively.
  • The majority of cancers possessing somatic ARID1A mutations and loss of BAF250a expression appear to have a normal (also known as “wild-type”) allele present.
  • DNA and RNA sequencing data reveals that the ratio of abnormal (mutant) to normal (wild-type) alleles at both the DNA and RNA levels is consistent, thereby suggesting that epigenetic silencing is not a significant factor.
  • In two patients, ARID1A mutations and loss of BAF250a protein expression were identified in the OCCC tumor and contiguous atypical endometriosis, but not in distant endometriotic lesions.

Conclusions

The researchers note in the study that ARID1A is located at chromosome 1p36.11. Although this fact carries little meaning for a layperson, the researchers explain that this chromosomal region is commonly deleted in tumors, and that such deletions could contain tumor-suppressor genes. Based upon the totality of the data, the OvCaRe team believes that ARID1A is a tumor-suppressor gene which is frequently disrupted in OCCCs and endometrioid cancers.  Although a bit speculative due to small sample size, the researchers also believe that because ARID1A mutation and loss of BAF250a protein expression were identified in precancerous endometriotic lesions, such events represent a transformation of endometriosis into cancer.

“The finding that ARID1A is the most frequently mutated gene described thus far in endometrioid and clear cell ovarian cancers represents a major scientific breakthrough. This discovery also sheds light on how endometriosis predisposes to the development of these cancers. The novel insights provided by this work have the exciting potential to facilitate advances in early diagnosis, treatment and prevention of endometrioid and clear cell cancers, which account for over 20 per cent of ovarian cancer cases.”

Dr. Andrew Berchuck, Director, Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Duke University Medical Center

Inaugural Ovarian Clear-Cell Carcinoma Symposium

International Clear-Cell Carcinoma of the Ovary Symposium (June 24, 2010)

On June 24, 2010, a group of preeminent clinicians and cancer research scientists from around the world gathered for the Clear Cell Carcinoma of the Ovary Symposium (the Symposium), which was held at the University of British Columbia. To my knowledge, the Symposium is the first global scientific meeting dedicated to a specific subtype of ovarian cancer, namely OCCC.

At the invitation of Dr. David Huntsman, the founder of the Symposium, I had the distinct pleasure and honor of attending this prestigious and informative meeting as an observer. Dr. Huntsman was aware that my 26-year old cousin, Libby, died from OCCC, and he thought that the Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ community would benefit from the information presented at the Symposium.

The stated goal of the Symposium was to empower the international clinical and research community interested in OCCC, and allow that community to focus on the major barriers to improving OCCC outcomes. Moreover, the Symposium speakers and attendees were charged with presenting unpublished data and providing provocative OCCC questions for group discussion. The countries represented at that Symposium included Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

The 1-day event was presented through three major sessions.  The first session addressed issues that challenge the clinical dogma relating to OCCC, and covered topic areas such as epidemiology, surgery, pathology, systemic oncology, and radiation oncology. The second session addressed OCCC molecular pathology and genomics.  The third session addressed global OCCC translational research and covered topic areas including OCCC outcomes from conventional clinical trials, current OCCC clinical trials, and novel approaches to OCCC treatment and the testing of new agents.

The international Symposium presenters, included the following individuals:

  • David Bowtell, Group Leader, Cancer Genetics & Genomics Research Laboratory, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre; Program Head, Cancer Genetics & Genomics, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne (Australia).
  • Michael A. Quinn, MB ChB Glas. MGO Melb. MRCP FRCOG FRANZCOG CGO, Director of Oncology/Dysplasia, Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia; Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Melbourne; Chair, National Cancer Control Initiative; Chair, Education Committee, International Gynecological Cancer Society; Chair, Ovarian Cancer Research Group, Cancer Council; Member, National Expert Advisory Group on Ovarian Cancer. (Australia)
  • C. Blake Gilks, M.D., FRCPC,  Co-Founder, Ovarian Cancer Research Program of BC; Professor & Acting Head, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of British Columbia; Head of Anatomic Pathology, Vancouver General Hospital; Member, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute; Co-Founder & Co-Director, Genetic Pathology Evaluation Centre, Vancouver General Hospital. (Canada)
  • Paul Hoskins, MA, M.B. B. CHIR, MRCP., FRCPC, Clinical Professor, University of British Columbia. (Canada)
  • David Huntsman, M.D., FRCPC, FCCMG, Co-Founder & Acting Director, Ovarian Cancer Research Program of British Columbia; Director, Centre for Translational and Applied Genomics, BC Cancer Agency; Co-Director, Genetic Pathology Evaluation Centre, Vancouver General Hospital; Associate Director, Hereditary Cancer Program, BC Cancer Agency. (Canada)
  • Helen MacKay, M.D., Staff Physician, Division of Medical Oncology and Hematology, Princess Margaret Hospital; Assistant Professor, University of Toronto; Member: (i) ICON 7 Translational Committee (representing NCIC CTG),  (ii) Study Committee of the TFRI Ovarian Cancer Biomarker Program, (iii) Gynecologic Cancer Steering Committee Cervical Cancer Task Force: Intergroup/NCI/National Institutes of Health, (iv) Cervix Working Group (NCIC CTG), (v) Gynecologic Disease Site Group (Cancer Care Ontario), and (vi) the GOC CPD Committee. (Canada)
  • Amit M. Oza, Bsc, MBBS, M.D., FRCPC, FRCP, Senior Staff Physician & Professor of Medicine, Princess Margaret Hospital, University of Toronto; Clinical Studies Resource Centre Member, Ontario Cancer Institute. (Canada)
  • Ken Swenerton, M.D., Co-Leader, Cheryl Brown Ovarian Cancer Outcomes Unit, Ovarian Cancer Research Program of BC; Clinical Professor, Medical Oncology, University of British Columbia; Department of Pathology, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute;  Genetic Pathology Evaluation Centre,Vancouver General Hospital; Co-Chair, NCI Gynecologic Cancer Steering Committee Ovarian Cancer Task Force. (Canada).
  • Anna Tinker, M.D., FRCPC, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia, Department of Medicine; Medical Oncologist, Oncology, British Columbia Cancer Agency (Canada).
  • Gillian Thomas, M.D., FRCPC, Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology & Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Toronto; Radiation Oncologist, Odette Cancer Centre; Co-Chair, NCI Gynecologic Cancer Steering Committee; Member, ACRIN Gynecologic Committee; Member, Cervix Committee and Executive Committee, Gynecologic Cancer Intergroup (GCIG); Member, Cervix Committee – Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG); Associate Editor, International Journal of Gynecologic Cancer. (Canada)
  • Aikou Okamoto, M.D., Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Jikei University School of Medicine, Tokyo (Japan).
  • Ian McNeish, MA, Ph.D., MRCP, MRC, Senior Clinical Fellow, Professor of Gynecological Oncology & Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology, Deputy Director of the Barts Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, Institute of Cancer, Barts and the London School of Medicine. (United Kingdom) (See Libby’s H*O*P*E*™, April 7, 2009)
  • Michael J. Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., Director of GYN/Medical Oncology at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center; Professor, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Co-Chair, NCI Gynecologic Cancer Steering Committee; formerly, Chief of the Molecular Mechanisms Section, Cell and Cancer Biology Branch, NCI Center for Cancer Research; formerly official representative from NCI Center for Cancer Research to the Gynecological Cancer Steering Committee. (United States)(See Libby’s H*O*P*E*™, December 8, 2009)

OvCaRe Ovarian Clear-Cell Carcinoma Research Initiative

As noted above, OCCC has been identified as distinct subtype of ovarian cancer.  OCCC-specific biomarkers or treatments have not been broadly adopted. Moreover, there are currently no clinically proven anti-cancer agents for OCCCs. For this reason, the OvCaRe team and other BC Cancer Agency scientists, have initiated a pioneering OCCC research initiative that consists of six separate, but interrelated projects.

The project will begin with the most fundamental research, the large scale sequencing of RNA and DNA derived from OCCC tumors. In the second, concurrent project, the vast quantities of genome sequence data will be transformed into usable knowledge that will be evaluated for clinical relevance by local and international experts. Identifying and validating novel biomarkers from the data obtained will be the focus of the third project, and the fourth project will permit scientists to specifically target those cellular biochemical signaling pathways that are considered to be useful tools for future drug development. The development and testing of the therapeutic targets and new drugs or new combinations of drugs in animal and human testing will complete this initiative.

The OvCaRe and the BC Cancer Agency scientists have a unique opportunity to completely reshape the scientific and medical understanding of OCCC and impact the way patients with this rare form of cancer are treated. The strength of their research initiative is based on linking the clinical research resources developed through OvCaRe with the genomic sequencing capacity of the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre, and the drug development capacity of the Centre for Drug Research and Development and the NanoMedicine Research Group.

“This pioneering discovery by Dr. Huntsman and his dedicated ovarian cancer research team will allow the international research community to take the genomic ‘high ground’ in the battle against these formidable subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer. The Ovarian Cancer Research Program of BC’s reported findings represent a critical first step towards development of one or more personalized targeted therapies to combat these lethal forms of ovarian cancer.”

Paul Cacciatore, Founder, Libby’s H*O*P*E*™

The impact of this research may not be experienced by women diagnosed with OCCC today, but this foundational research must begin immediately so as to impact outcomes in the years to come. Ably led by Dr. David Huntsman, this team of dedicated individuals represents a depth and breadth of medical and scientific expertise not often found in a single geographic location.

The hope is that through the identification of therapeutic targets for OCCC, this team will yield a powerful “superstar” drug such as Herceptin (used successfully for HER-2 positive breast cancer) or Gleevec (used successfully for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)). These drugs are examples of therapeutics that were created based on a direct match of an identified genetic target to the therapeutic solution.

This project is of utmost importance as it will define the unique aspects of OCCC and lead to the development of more effective therapies for women diagnosed with this rare subtype of ovarian cancer.

Special Acknowledgments

First and foremost, I want to thank Dr. Huntsman for his intelligence, creative vision and compassion, which he utilizes to great effect each day, in conducting scientific research designed to ultimately benefit all women with OCCC. I also want to thank Dr. Huntsman for the generous invitation to attend the OCCC Symposium in June. It was a privilege and honor to attend and listen to international OCCC experts discuss and debate the merits of various approaches to beating this subtype of epithelial ovarian cancer. In sum, Dr. Huntsman has been extremely generous to me with respect to his time and expertise during my recent trip to Vancouver and throughout my preparation of this article.

Prior to today’s ARID1A gene mutation discovery announcement, women with OCCC did not have a “voice” in the cancer research scientific community. Dr. Huntsman has not only given these women a voice, he has given them hope for the future.  As the late Christopher Reeve said: “Once you choose hope, anything is possible.”

I also want to thank the OvCaRe team members and BC Cancer Agency scientists that I met in Vancouver during my June trip, including Ken Swenerton, M.D., Sohrab Shah, Ph.D., Dianne Miller, M.D., Sam Aparicio, Ph.D., and Blake Gilks, M.D., for taking the time to answer all of my novice questions with a great understanding and passion.

Simply stated, this article would not have been possible without the substantial assistance provided to me by Sharon Kennedy, a Senior Director of Development with the BC Cancer Foundation. Sharon exemplifies the “heart and soul” behind the BC Cancer Foundation’s philanthropic activities.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank Mr. Douglas Gray, a highly successful entrepreneur and attorney, for introducing me to the BC scientific cancer research community. Doug is a tireless supporter of all women with OCCC, through his compassion, caring, and philanthropic generosity.

The Talmud says: “And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Doug Gray is in the business of saving women’s lives.

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References:

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20/Mabuchi S, Altomare DA, Connolly DC, Klein-Szanto A, Litwin S, Hoelzle MK, et. al. RAD001 (Everolimus) delays tumor onset and progression in a transgenic mouse model of ovarian cancer.  Cancer Res. 2007 Mar 15;67(6):2408-13.

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22/Yoshida S, Furukawa N, Haruta S, et. al. Theoretical model of treatment strategies for clear cell carcinoma of the ovary: focus on perspectives. Cancer Treat Rev. 2009 Nov;35(7):608-15. Epub 2009 Aug 8. Review.

23/Mabuchi S, Kawase C, Altomare DA, et. al.  mTOR is a promising therapeutic target both in cisplatin-sensitive and cisplatin-resistant clear cell carcinoma of the ovary. Clin Cancer Res. 2009 Sep 1;15(17):5404-13. Epub 2009 Aug 18.

24/Miyazawa M, Yasuda M, Fujita M, et. al. Therapeutic strategy targeting the mTOR-HIF-1alpha-VEGF pathway in ovarian clear cell adenocarcinoma. Pathol Int. 2009 Jan;59(1):19-27.

25/Mabuchi S, Kawase C, Altomare DA, et. al.  Vascular endothelial growth factor is a promising therapeutic target for the treatment of clear cell carcinoma of the ovary. Mol Cancer Ther. 2010 Aug;9(8):2411-22. Epub 2010 Jul 27.

26/For open ovarian cancer clinical trials using sunitinib, CLICK HERE; For open solid tumor clinical trials using sunitinib, CLICK HERE.

27/For open ovarian cancer clinical trials using sorafenib CLICK HERE; For open solid tumor clinical trials using sorafenib, CLICK HERE.

28/For open ovarian cancer clinical trials using temsirolimus, CLICK HERE; For open solid tumor clinical trials using temsirolimus, CLICK HERE.

29/For open ovarian cancer clinical trials using everolimus, CLICK HERE; For open solid tumor clinical trials using everolimus, CLICK HERE.

30/For open ovarian cancer clinical trials using bevacizumab, CLICK HERE; For open solid tumor clinical trials using bevacizumab, CLICK HERE.

31/PI3K Pathway: A Potential Ovarian Cancer Therapeutic Target?, by Paul Cacciatore, Libby’s H*O*P*E*™, November 30, 2009.

32/For open ovarian cancer clinical trials using a phosphoinositide 3′-kinase (PI3K)-targeted therapy; CLICK HERE; For open solid tumor clinical trials using a phosphoinositide 3′-kinase (PI3K)-targeted therapy, CLICK HERE.

33/UCLA Researchers Significantly Inhibit Growth of Ovarian Cancer Cell Lines With FDA-Approved Leukemia Drug Dasatinib (Sprycel®),by Paul Cacciatore, Libby’s H*O*P*E*™, November 30, 2009.

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39/BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing, National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet, Cancer Topic, National Cancer Institute, May 29, 2009.

40/Goodheart MJ, Rose SL, Hattermann-Zogg M, et. al. BRCA2 alteration is important in clear cell carcinoma of the ovary. Clin Genet. 2009 Aug;76(2):161-7. Epub 2009 Jul 28.

41/For open ovarian cancer clinical trials using PARP inhibitors, CLICK HERE; For open solid tumor clinical trials using PARP inhibitors, CLICK HERE.

42/Audeh MW, Carmichael J, Penson RT, et. al. Oral poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitor olaparib in patients with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations and recurrent ovarian cancer: a proof-of-concept trial. Lancet. 2010 Jul 24;376(9737):245-51. Epub 2010 Jul 6.

43/PARP Inhibitor Olaparib Benefits Women With Inherited Ovarian Cancer Based Upon Platinum Drug Sensitivity, by Paul Cacciatore, Libby’s H*O*P*E*™, April 23, 2010.

44/Konstantinopoulos PA, Spentzos D, Karlan BY, et. al. Gene expression profile of BRCAness that correlates with responsiveness to chemotherapy and with outcome in patients with epithelial ovarian cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2010 Aug 1;28(22):3555-61. Epub 2010 Jun 14.

45/Bast RC Jr, Mills GB. Personalizing therapy for ovarian cancer: BRCAness and beyond. J Clin Oncol. 2010 Aug 1;28(22):3545-8. Epub 2010 Jun 14.

46/Köbel M, Xu H, Bourne PA, et. al. IGF2BP3 (IMP3) expression is a marker of unfavorable prognosis in ovarian carcinoma of clear cell subtype. Mod Pathol. 2009 Mar;22(3):469-75. Epub 2009 Jan 9.

47/Köbel M, Kalloger SE, Carrick J, Huntsman D, et. al. A limited panel of immunomarkers can reliably distinguish between clear cell and high-grade serous carcinoma of the ovary. Am J Surg Pathol. 2009 Jan;33(1):14-21.

48/Kim A, Serada S, Enomoto T, Naka T. Targeting annexin A4 to counteract chemoresistance in clear cell carcinoma of the ovary. Expert Opin Ther Targets. 2010 Sep;14(9):963-71.

49/Maeda D, Ota S, Takazawa Y, et. al. Glypican-3 expression in clear cell adenocarcinoma of the ovary. Mod Pathol. 2009 Jun;22(6):824-32. Epub 2009 Mar 27.

50/Matsuura M, Suzuki T, Saito T. Osteopontin is a new target molecule for ovarian clear cell carcinoma therapy. Cancer Sci. 2010 Aug;101(8):1828-33. Epub 2010 May 12.

51/Ho CM, Lai HC, Huang SH, et. al. Promoter methylation of sFRP5 in patients with ovarian clear cell adenocarcinoma. Eur J Clin Invest. 2010 Apr;40(4):310-8.

52/Yamaguchi K, Mandai M, Oura T, et. al. Identification of an ovarian clear cell carcinoma gene signature that reflects inherent disease biology and the carcinogenic processes.  Oncogene. 2010 Mar 25;29(12):1741-52. Epub 2010 Jan 11.

53/Yoshioka N, Suzuki N, Uekawa A, et. al. POU6F1 is the transcription factor that might be involved in cell proliferation of clear cell adenocarcinoma of the ovary. Hum Cell. 2009 Nov;22(4):94-100.

54/Nagaraja AK, Creighton CJ, Yu Z, et. al. A link between mir-100 and FRAP1/mTOR in clear cell ovarian cancer. Mol Endocrinol. 2010 Feb;24(2):447-63. Epub 2010 Jan 15.

55/Reisman D, Glaros S, Thompson EA. The SWI/SNF complex and cancer. Oncogene 2009;28:1653-68.

56/Huang J, Zhao YL, Li Y, et. al.  Genomic and functional evidence for an ARID1A tumor suppressor role.  Genes Chromosomes Cancer 2007;46:745-50.

57/Largest Study Matching Genomes To Potential Anticancer Treatments Releases Initial Results, by Paul Cacciatore, Libby’s H*O*P*E*™, August 3, 2010.

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Sources:

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Genetics 101

The information hyperlinked above was obtained from GeneticHealth & the BC Cancer Agency’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre.

About David Huntsman, M.D., FRCPC, FCCMG

David Huntsman, M.D., FRCPC, FCCMG, is a world-renowned genetic pathologist, and the Co-Founder and Director of the Ovarian Cancer Research Program of British Columbia(OvCaRe). He also heads the Centre for Translational and Applied Genomics, located in the British Columbia (BC) Cancer Agency’s Vancouver Centre.  Dr. Huntsman is also the Co-Director of the Genetic Pathology Evaluation Centre, Vancouver General Hospital, and the Associate Director of the Hereditary Cancer Program, BC Cancer Agency. He is involved in a broad range of translational cancer research and, as the OvCaRe team leader, has studied the genetic and molecular structure of ovarian cancer for many years.

His recent retrospective assessment of 21 candidate tissue-based biomarkers implicated that ovarian cancer subtypes are different diseases, contributing to the view that contemplation of disease subtype is crucial to the study of ovarian cancer. To ultimately beat ovarian cancer, Huntsman and his dedicated OvCaRe team believe that ovarian cancer must be genetically tackled “one subtype at a time.”  In June 2009, the NEJM published one of Dr. Huntsman’s most recent groundbreaking discoveries:  the identification of  mutations in the FOXL2 gene as the molecular basis of adult granulosa cell ovarian cancer tumors.  As of today, Dr. Huntsman and his OvCaRe team can add to their groundbreaking discoveries, the identification of frequent ARID1A gene mutations in endometriosis-associated ovarian cancers (i.e., the clear-cell and endometrioid ovarian cancer subtypes).

About Marco Marra, Ph.D.

Marco Marra, Ph.D. is the Director of the BC Cancer Agency’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre (GSC), one of eight BC Cancer Agency specialty laboratories. Dr. Marra is internationally recognized as a preeminent leader in the field of genetics.  His leadership has helped transform the GSC into one of the world’s most advanced and productive centers for development and application of genomics, bioinformatics and related technologies.

The work of the GSC , along with collaborations involving the BC Cancer Agency and other local, national and international researchers and organizations, have led to several major scientific breakthroughs over the past decade.  These breakthroughs include the rapid genome sequencing of the SARS Coronavirus, and the sequencing and genome analysis of the avian flu (H7N3).

About the Ovarian Cancer Research Program of British Columbia (OvCaRe)

The Ovarian Cancer Research Program of BC was formed in late 2000 when a group of Vancouver-based physicians and scientists joined with the common vision of enhancing ovarian cancer research in British Columbia and the explicit goal of improving outcomes for ovarian cancer patients. OvCaRe was developed as a collaboration between the BC Cancer Agency, the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, and the University of British Columbia.  The OvCaRe program includes clinicians and research scientists from the Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) and the British Columbia (BC) Cancer Agency, who specialize in gynecology, pathology, and medical oncology.

OvCaRe is currently focused on three major goals.

1. To improve ovarian cancer survival through early detection of disease. OvCaRe researchers are working to identify proteins that are produced in the early stages of ovarian cancer. Detection of these proteins can then be developed into diagnostic tests to allow for earlier diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

2. To develop new therapies for ovarian cancer treatment. This is being achieved through research aimed at identifying the cause of ovarian cancer at the cellular level and then directly and specifically targeting that defect. OvCaRe is using a similar strategy to develop treatments to prevent ovarian cancer recurrence.

3. To develop individualized ovarian cancer treatments. Ovarian cancer can be subdivided into several groups based on their pathological appearance, however these groups are currently all treated in the same manner, though their responses are quite variable. OvCaRe is working to determine what is responsible for division between ovarian cancers subtypes and developing subtype specific treatments.

OvCaRe is funded through generous donations to the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation and BC Cancer Foundation. The OvCaRe team is considered a leader in ovarian cancer research, breaking new ground to improve the identification, understanding, and treatment of this disease.

About the British Columbia (BC) Cancer Agency

The BC Cancer Agency provides a comprehensive province-wide, population-based cancer control program for the people of British Columbia, Canada, including prevention, screening and early detection programs, translational research and education, and care and treatment.

The BC Cancer Agency’s mandate covers the spectrum of cancer care, from prevention and screening, to diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. The BC Cancer Agency’s mandate is driven by a three-fold mission: (1) reduce the incidence of cancer, (2)  reduce the mortality rate of people with cancer, and (3) improve the quality of life of people living with cancer. This mission includes providing screening, diagnosis and care, setting treatment standards, and conducting research into causes of, and cures for, cancer.

The BC Cancer Agency operates five regional cancer centres, providing assessment and diagnostic services, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and supportive care.  Each of the BC Cancer Agency’s centres delivers cancer treatment based on provincial standards and guidelines established by the Agency.

Research is an essential part of the BC Cancer Agency’s mission to not only find the causes of cancer, but to find better treatments for prolonged life and better quality of life. With direct links between the BC Cancer Agency’s physicians and researchers at its five centres (including the Deeley Research Centre (located in Victoria) and the BC Cancer Agency’s Research Centre (located in Vancouver)), the BC Cancer Agency can quickly translate new discoveries into clinical applications. The BC Cancer Agency’s Research Centre includes eight specialty laboratories including the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, and the Terry Fox Laboratory.

The BC Cancer Agency includes the following among its many accomplishments:

  • Canada’s largest fully integrated cancer and research treatment organization;
  • the best cancer incidence and survival rates in Canada as a result of the unique and longstanding population-based cancer control system;
  • leadership in cancer control with world-renowned programs in lymphoid, lung, breast, ovarian and oral cancer research and care; and
  • a unique set of research platforms that form the basis of research and care, including one of the world’s top four genome sciences centres.

About the Vancouver General Hospital (VGH)

The Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) is a 955 bed hospital that offers specialized services to residents in Vancouver and across the province.  VGH is also a teaching hospital, affiliated with the University of British Columbia and home to one of the largest research institutes in Canada.

About the British Columbia (BC) Cancer Foundation

The BC Cancer Foundation is an independent charitable organization that raises funds to support breakthrough cancer research and care at the BC Cancer Agency.

Over 70 years ago, the BC Cancer Foundation, led by a group of prominent BC citizens, created what is today the BC Cancer Agency. The Foundation has offices in all five of the BC Cancer’s Agency’s treatment centres – Abbotsford, Fraser Valley, Southern Interior, Vancouver Island and Vancouver.

About the Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) & University of British Columbia (UBC) Hospital Foundation

The VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation is a registered charity that raises funding for the latest, most sophisticated medical equipment, world-class research and improvements to patient care for VGH, UBC Hospital, GF Strong Rehab Centre and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. For more than 25 years, the Foundation and its donors have been a bridge between the essential health care governments provide and the most advanced health care possible.


GOG Says Continuation of Pivotal OPAXIO Maintenance Therapy Trial (GOG-212) Remains High Priority

Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) Notifies CTI That Continuation of GOG-212 Pivotal Trial of OPAXIO Maintenance Therapy in Front Line Ovarian Cancer Remains High Priority.  GOG-218 Bevacizumab Results Do Not Influence Importance of GOG-212

Cell Therapeutics, Inc. (“CTI”) announced today that the company received a statement on March 1, 2010 from the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) leadership that the phase III GOG-212 clinical trial of CTI’s OPAXIO™ (formerly known as Xyotax or CT-2103) used as maintenance therapy for ovarian cancer remains a high priority and enrollment will continue. The GOG made the statement to clarify that the recent results of the GOG-218 clinical trial bevacizumab in maintenance therapy for ovarian cancer has not influenced the importance of completing the GOG-212 clinical trial. The Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) is one of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) funded cooperative cancer research groups. The GOG is a multidisciplinary cooperative clinical trial research group focused on the study of gynecologic malignancies. The GOG is conducting phase III trials in ovarian cancer and other gynecologic cancers and has established standard treatments for these diseases in the U.S.

GOG leadership noted the following:

GOG-218 and GOG-212 differ in the type of patients under study. It is important to note that some of the patients who completed the initial 6 cycles of chemotherapy in GOG-218 had clinical evidence of persistent tumor and were randomized to either placebo (no treatment) or bevacizumab [Avastin®]. Thus a subset of GOG-218 patients received no therapy, despite the presence of persistent tumor. This is not the typical setting of using maintenance or consolidation therapy and it is not the setting for patients enrolled in GOG-212. In GOG-212, only patients who have achieved a complete clinical response are considered candidates for enrollment in the trial.

Reliance upon the data from GOG-218 to establish the “standard of care” must take into consideration the actual treatment effect (i.e., duration of benefit), the cost of the treatment, and the associated toxicity… [in GOG-212] the toxicity of the intervention may have less associated mortality and the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio may be more acceptable to patients and the health care economists. Thus the GOG has no intention to discontinue enrollment in GOG 212 as they feel that the study is addressing a different scientific question and the primary outcome study goal is survival, not progression free survival, an outcome of greater importance to both physicians and patients.

The Data Monitoring Committee is scheduled to conduct an interim analysis of overall survival when 130 events are recorded among patients in the no maintenance treatment arm. The statistical analysis plan utilizes pre-specified boundaries for early stopping for success. Based on current enrollment and study duration, the interim analysis could be conducted as early as 2011. If successful, CTI could utilize those results to form the basis of its New Drug Application for OPAXIO.

About Cell Therapeutics, Inc.

Headquartered in Seattle, CTI is a biopharmaceutical company committed to developing an integrated portfolio of oncology products aimed at making cancer more treatable. For additional information, please visit http://www.celltherapeutics.com/.

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Genentech Announces Positive Results of Avastin Phase III Study in Women with Advanced Ovarian Cancer

Genentech announces positive results of Avastin Phase III study (GOG 218) in women with advanced ovarian cancer. The study showed that women who continued maintenance use of Avastin alone, after receiving Avastin in combination with chemotherapy, lived longer without the disease worsening compared to those who received chemotherapy alone. This is the first Phase III study of an anti-angiogenic therapy in advanced ovarian cancer to meet its primary endpoint.

Tumor angiogenesis is the proliferation of a network of blood vessels that penetrates into cancerous growths, supplying nutrients and oxygen and removing waste products. Tumor angiogenesis actually starts with cancerous tumor cells releasing molecules that send signals to surrounding normal host tissue. This signaling activates certain genes in the host tissue that, in turn, make proteins to encourage growth of new blood vessels. Photo credit: NCI

Genentech, Inc., a wholly owned member of the Roche Group , today announced that a Phase III study showed the combination of Avastin® (bevacizumab) and chemotherapy followed by maintenance use of Avastin alone increased the time women with previously untreated advanced ovarian cancer lived without the disease worsening (progression-free survival or PFS), compared to chemotherapy alone. A preliminary assessment of safety noted adverse events previously observed in pivotal trials of Avastin. Data from the study will be submitted for presentation at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, June 4 – 8, 2010.

In the three-arm study, known as Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) 0218, women with newly diagnosed advanced ovarian cancer who already had surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible were randomized to receive one of the following:

  • Arm 1: Placebo in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy followed by placebo alone, for a total of up to 15 months of therapy
  • Arm 2: Avastin in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy followed by placebo alone, for a total of up to 15 months of therapy
  • Arm 3: Avastin in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy followed by the maintenance use of Avastin alone, for a total of up to 15 months of therapy.

The study showed that women who continued maintenance use of Avastin alone, after receiving Avastin in combination with chemotherapy (Arm 3), lived longer without the disease worsening compared to those who received chemotherapy alone. Women who received Avastin in combination with chemotherapy, but did not continue maintenance use of Avastin alone (Arm 2), did not live longer without the disease worsening compared to chemotherapy alone.

“Additional medicines are urgently needed for women with newly diagnosed advanced ovarian cancer, as most women’s cancer will worsen after their initial treatment,” said Hal Barron, M.D., F.A.C.C., Executive Vice President, Global Development and Chief Medical Officer. “We are encouraged by the positive findings of this study, which highlight the importance of continuing maintenance Avastin after combining Avastin with chemotherapy in this setting. We will discuss these results with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

Robert Allen Burger, MD, FACOG, FACS, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“This is good news for women with ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian tube cancers,” said GOG 0218 study chair Robert Burger, M.D., Fox-Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. “This study showed that after initial surgery, the combination of Avastin and chemotherapy followed by extended treatment with Avastin improves progression-free survival in women with newly diagnosed advanced tumors.”

The trial is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between the NCI and Genentech, and is being conducted by a network of researchers led by the GOG.

Avastin is being studied worldwide in more than 450 clinical trials for multiple types of cancer, including approximately 25 ongoing clinical trials in the United States for women with various stages of ovarian cancer.

About Ovarian Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women. In 2009 an estimated 21,500 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer and approximately 14,500 died from the disease in the U.S. The disease causes more deaths than any other gynecologic cancer, and the American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 70 percent of women with advanced disease will die from it within five years.

Ovarian cancer is associated with high levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein associated with tumor growth and spread. Studies have shown a correlation between a high level of VEGF and a poorer prognosis in women with ovarian cancer. Currently, treatment options for women with this disease are limited to surgery and chemotherapy.

About the GOG 0218 Study

GOG 0218 is an international, multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase III study in 1,873 women with previously untreated advanced epithelial ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian tube carcinoma. The study evaluates Avastin (5 cycles) in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy (6 cycles) compared to carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy alone (6 cycles). The trial is also designed to assess the maintenance use of Avastin alone following the initial combined regimen of Avastin and chemotherapy (for a total of up to 15 months of therapy), compared to carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy alone (6 cycles).

The primary endpoint of the study is PFS as assessed by trial investigators. Secondary and exploratory endpoints of the study include overall survival, PFS by independent review, objective response rate, safety, quality of life measures and analysis of patient tumor and blood samples.

Detailed safety assessments are ongoing. A preliminary assessment of safety performed by the GOG identified Avastin-related serious adverse events noted in previous pivotal studies, including fatal neutropenic infection and gastrointestinal perforation. The full study results, including safety information, will be presented at a future medical meeting.

About Avastin

Avastin is a solution for intravenous infusion and is a biologic antibody designed to specifically bind to a protein called VEGF. VEGF plays an important role throughout the lifecycle of the tumor to develop and maintain blood vessels, a process known as angiogenesis. Avastin interferes with the tumor blood supply by directly binding to the VEGF protein to prevent interactions with receptors on blood vessel cells. Avastin does not bind to receptors on normal or cancer cells. The tumor blood supply is thought to be critical to a tumor’s ability to grow and spread in the body (metastasize). For more information about angiogenesis, visit http://www.gene.com.

Boxed WARNINGS and Additional Important Safety Information

People treated with Avastin may experience side effects. In clinical trials, some people treated with Avastin experienced serious and sometimes fatal side effects, including:

Gastrointestinal (GI) perforation: Treatment with Avastin can result in the development of a potentially serious side effect called GI perforation, which is the development of a hole in the stomach, small intestine or large intestine. In clinical trials, this side effect occurred in more people who received Avastin than in the comparison group (0.3 percent to 2.4 percent). In some cases, GI perforation resulted in fatality.

Surgery and wound healing problems: Treatment with Avastin can lead to slow or incomplete wound healing (for example, when a surgical incision has trouble healing or staying closed). In some cases, this event resulted in fatality. Surgery and wound healing problems occurred more often in people who received Avastin than in the comparison group. Avastin therapy should not be started for at least 28 days after surgery and until the surgical wound is fully healed. The length of time between stopping Avastin and having voluntary surgery without the risk of having surgery and wound healing problems following surgery has not been determined.

Severe bleeding: Treatment with Avastin can result in serious bleeding, including coughing up blood, bleeding in the stomach, vomiting of blood, bleeding in the brain, nosebleeds and vaginal bleeding. These events occurred up to five times more often in people who received Avastin. Across cancer types, 1.2 percent to 4.6 percent of people who received Avastin experienced severe to fatal bleeding. People who have recently coughed up blood (greater than or equal to a half teaspoon of red blood) or have serious bleeding should not receive Avastin.

In clinical trials for different cancer types, there were additional serious and sometimes fatal side effects that occurred in more people who received Avastin than in those in the comparison group. The formation of an abnormal passage from parts of the body to another part (non-GI fistula formation) was seen in 0.3 percent or less of people. Severe to life-threatening stroke or heart problems were seen in 2.4 percent of people. Too much protein in the urine, which led to kidney problems, was seen in less than 1 percent of people. Additional serious side effects that occurred in more people who received Avastin than those in the comparison group included severe to life-threatening high blood pressure, which was seen in 5 percent to 18 percent of people, and nervous system and vision disturbances (reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy syndrome), which was seen in less than 0.1 percent of people. Infusion reactions with the first dose of Avastin were uncommon and occurred in less than 3 percent of people and severe reactions occurred in 0.2 percent of people.

Common side effects that occurred in more than 10 percent of people who received Avastin for different cancer types, and at least twice the rate of the comparison group, were nosebleeds, headache, high blood pressure, inflammation of the nose, too much protein in the urine, taste change, dry skin, rectal bleeding, tear production disorder, back pain and inflammation of the skin (exfoliative dermatitis). Across all trials, treatment with Avastin was permanently stopped in 8.4 percent to 21 percent of people because of side effects.

Avastin may impair fertility. Patients who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant should talk with their doctor about the potential risk of loss of the pregnancy or the potential risk of Avastin to the fetus during and following Avastin therapy, and the need to continue an effective birth control method for at least six months following the last dose of Avastin.

For full Prescribing Information and Boxed WARNINGS on Avastin please visit http://www.avastin.com.

About Genentech

Founded more than 30 years ago, Genentech is a leading biotechnology company that discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines to treat patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions. The company, a wholly owned member of the Roche Group, has headquarters in South San Francisco, California. For additional information about the company, please visit http://www.gene.com.

About The Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG)

The Gynecologic Oncology Group is a non-profit organization of more than 300 member institutions with the purpose of promoting excellence in the quality and integrity of clinical and basic scientific research in the field of Gynecologic malignancies. The Group is committed to maintaining the highest standards in the clinical trial development, execution, analysis and distribution of results. Continuous evaluation of our processes is utilized in order to constantly improve the quality of patient care.

GOG receives support from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

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