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Expert Discusses Using EGFR TKIs to Treat Lung Cancer

H. Jack West, M.D., explains how to best optimize the treatment of EGFR-mutated non-small cell lung cancer by using TKIs. 
BY Danielle Bucco
PUBLISHED February 07, 2017
The first-line approach for patients with EGFR-mutated non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) now relies on the use of EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), such as Tarceva (erlotinib), Gilotrif (afatinib) and Iressa (gefitinib).

“There’s a statistically better response rate and progression-free survival (PFS) with any of these EGFR TKIs versus conventional chemotherapy,” explains H. Jack West, M.D.

Several phase 3 clinical trials have assessed the various EGFR TKIs as frontline therapies for patients with NSCLC, including the LUX-Lung 3 and six studies, which compared Gilotrif with cisplatin-based regimens, and the LUX-Lung 7 study, which compared Gilotrif with Iressa.

In an interview with CURE, West, who is the medical director of the Thoracic Oncology Program at the Swedish Cancer Institute, discusses the benefits of EGFR TKIs in NSCLC, challenges with determining optimal sequencing, and potential combinations on the horizon.

Please discuss some of the available EGFR TKIs for patients with NSCLC.

Looking at the issue of what is the best EGFR TKI in the first-line setting, there have been more than six clinical trials that have looked at a different EGFR TKI versus conventional chemotherapy. They have all found the same result: that there's a markedly higher and significantly better response rate and progression-free survival (PFS) with any of these EGFR TKIs, whether it's a first-generation inhibitor like Iressa or Tarceva, or a second-generation irreversible inhibitor like Gilotrif.

On the other hand, getting a survival difference compared with chemotherapy has been allusive. This is because these are patients who are fortunately living for two, three or more years, but their first-line treatment often lasts for 10 or 12 months. Therefore, a lot of patients will go on to other therapies and that tends to dilute the survival difference.

Gilotrif has shown a survival benefit, particularly seen in patients with exon 19 deletion, which is one of the two very common EGFR mutations compared with chemotherapy.

There has been a direct comparison in a trial called LUX-Lung 7 of Gilotrif to Iressa, which is a first-generation agent. That trial showed a significantly better PFS with Gilotrif as well as a higher response rate, but we haven't seen a difference in OS.

In the end, I would say it's a range of choices without a clear best answer. The toxicity profile of Iressa is the most benign and Tarceva is somewhere between Iressa and Gilotrif. Gilotrif has the highest rate of toxicities, such as diarrhea, stomatitis, paramecia and rash. Therefore, it depends on a patient's and physician’s discussion of whether they want to pursue efficacy that is likely a little bit better with Gilotrif, but with a greater toxicity challenge. 

Do you have a preferred regimen you use in the frontline?

I would say that, in the United States, Tarceva is the most commonly pursued option. I use that on a lot of my patients. I have many patients with activating EGFR mutations who have been on a combination of Tarceva and bevacizumab (Avastin) for 18 months or two years. Some people object that it's medicalizing things, since you need to come in every three weeks and go to the infusion center.

However, for some patients who are averse to the toxicity issues, Iressa is also a fine choice.

Do you believe the lung cancer community will have challenges with sequencing TKIs?

Right now, we do have good problem of a lot of choices. The question is whether there is an optimal sequence.

I would say that one of the things that has been tried is initially giving an agent such as Tarceva,—a first-generation inhibitor,—and then trying Gilotrif. Certainly, Gilotrif and Erbitux (cetuximab) has been looked at in some small clinical trials that looked promising years ago, but we haven't seen subsequent data at this point. It's a challenging regimen in terms of toxicity. There’s a lot of rash, some diarrhea, and other issues. I would say that Gilotrif after Iressa or Tarceva is not a very fruitful approach.

The third-generation EGFR TKI Tagrisso (osimertinib), which is now FDA approved for T790M-positive acquired resistance, is a very appealing choice. The question is: where does it fit in?

T790M is the most common mechanism of acquired resistance in the setting of each EGFR-mutant disease. It's seen in 50 percent to 60 percent of patients and, with the FDA approval of Tagrisso, it makes testing for T790M a standard of care—and all but a mandate.

You have a therapy that has a very good response rate at a range of 60 percent in the vast majority of patients, is well tolerated, and is an excellent choice if you have T790M.
Perhaps, Tagrisso in the first-line setting would be better for everybody because you can give a very active agent with a good tolerability to not just the 50 percent or 60 percent with a T790M mutation, but to everybody.

What do you envision the future of EGFR TKIs being in the next couple of years?

We have seen some signals of potential toxicity challenges with immunotherapies, at least with Tagrisso, but potentially with other EGFR inhibitors. Each of these agents can be associated with toxicities and, added together, we need to be cautious about that. I would be very disinclined to do it outside of a trial. A sequential approach for these patients — who may be living for years — is that it gives a lot of opportunity for treatment.

Immunotherapies, if anything, seem to have greater activity as the cancer develops more mutations leading to potentially more immunogenic spots to focus on. It may be that a patient who has been on several therapies over two or three years has a better chance of responding to immunotherapy later than earlier.

I'm more enthused about EGFR inhibitors in combination with antiangiogenic agents. Many companies with a wide range of agents have noticed the Japanese data on combinations such as Tarceva and bevacizumab and are looking more at various EGFR inhibitors in combination with antiangiogenic agents.
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