New Agents Are Shifting Kidney Cancer Treatment Strategies

Will the newly approved kidney cancer treatments eventually end up in the frontline setting? Expert  Chung-Han (Joe) Lee, M.D., weighs in.
BY Gina Columbus
PUBLISHED December 18, 2016
After the recent approvals of three agents for second-line treatment of renal cell carcinoma (RCC), some researchers are looking ahead to the potential to use these agents in the frontline setting, says Chung-Han (Joe) Lee, M.D.

In the second-line setting, the PD-1 inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) was approved in November 2015, followed by the respective April 2016 and May 2016 approvals of Cabometyx (cabozantinib) and the combination of Lenvima (lenvatinib) and Afinitor (everolimus), creating promising additions to an already abundant landscape.

Frontline trials with these agents are already creating buzz. For example, in the phase 2 CABOSUN trial, frontline Cabometyx was found to reduce the risk of progression or death by 34 percent versus Sutent (sunitinib) for patients with metastatic RCC.

Lee, who is a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, discussed current paradigms and future directions in RCC. In an interview with CURE, highlighted recent treatment approvals in RCC, current and emerging treatments and strategies, and the significance of clinical trial enrollment.

What was the focus of your RCC discussion?

Over the course of the last 11 years, we have developed approximately 10 new regimens for the treatment of kidney cancer, with three of them approved within the last year or so. Then, we talked briefly about adjuvant therapy and some of the questions that have arisen from the studies that have come out, and some of the future directions to take.

Within the last year or so, we had the FDA approval of three new regimens for the treatment of kidney cancer: Cabometyx, Opdivo, and our first combination therapy of Afinitor and Lenvima.

How did these recent approvals shift the treatment landscape?

Within the last year, we have really seen, in the second-line setting, a shift in the drugs that are being used at this moment. We have not only shown improvements in overall survival, but also we are starting to look more deeply at some of the resistance mechanisms of some of the first-line therapies.

Where are we currently with understanding resistance?

There is a lot more research that needs to be done with regard to how we can improve upon the treatments that we have. In addition to the targeted therapies that we currently use, a lot of what we are looking at right now is figuring out how to enhance those treatments in combinations that might be beneficial.
 
Unfortunately, our ways of predicting resistance have been pretty limited. We have tried multiple approaches but, essentially, we aren’t able to really know who may or may not respond until after they start therapy.

Down the line, what therapeutic approaches do you see occurring in kidney cancer?

What we really want to see are improvements in therapy for which we can see more durable responses. As of right now, we think that immunotherapies are probably the way forward. How to combine these immunotherapies may be very important. Will it be dual immunotherapy? Is it going to be a combination of immunotherapy plus VEGF-targeted therapy? Or, there may be a development of new pathways that might be important, now that we better understand the genetics of kidney cancer.

With the plethora of agents available, sequencing must be a challenge.

The sequencing for first-line therapy has really been established over the last two or three years. In the frontline setting, most patients are getting Sutent or Votrient (pazopanib). However, in the next couple of years, first-line therapy is likely to change. There are multiple phase 3 trials currently out right now that are exploring whether or not we should be changing what we use as first-line therapy.

What factors will you likely consider in choosing first-line therapy?

It really is the way that the drugs work. Right now, there is a lot of interest in exploring whether using immunotherapies in combination upfront may actually improve upon the gains we have made in the past.

What is another area of importance right now in this field?

We highly encourage people, if possible, to participate in a clinical trial. It is one of those things where it allows them access to medications that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them. Especially for first-line trials, there is often a lot of misinformation on whether it is a phase 1, phase 2 or phase 3 trial. It is our hope that this is something better than everything else that we already have.
 
 
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