Our Team’s Take on the Most Influential ASH 2018 Lymphoma Research

At the end of each year, the American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting & Exposition brings together over 25,000 hematology professionals from around the world to discuss the latest research into the treatment of blood diseases. Highlights of ASH is a two-day program designed to update clinicians and researchers unable to attend the Annual Meeting with the findings most likely to impact daily clinical practice.

Our Lymphoma Program Chief, Dr. Peter Martin was selected to represent the Highlights of ASH Lymphoma Committee for a post-meeting update in January 2019. Here’s his take on the latest lymphoma research.

Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)

According to the FLYER study, patients younger than 60 with low-risk diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) had excellent outcomes with a shortened regimen of four cycles of R-CHOP chemotherapy versus the standard six cycles. The reduction in chemotherapy may allow for minimizing potential toxic side effects for this patient population.

Our Team’s Take
It is now clear that most young people with stage 1, low-risk DLBCL can be effectively treated with just four cycles of R-CHOP, but providers should use caution in extrapolating these results to rarer subtypes of DLBCL (e.g., primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma, transformed lymphomas, etc.) that may not have been included in large numbers in the FLYER trial.

SOURCE 781- Excellent Outcome of Young Patients (18-60 years) with Favourable-Prognosis Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) Treated with 4 Cycles CHOP Plus 6 Applications of Rituximab: Results of the 592 Patients of the Flyer Trial of the Dshnhl/GLA

R-CHOP chemotherapy is the standard treatment for people with previously untreated DLBCL. The Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitor ibrutinib has shown activity in people with a subtype of DLBCL known as non-germinal center B cell DLBCL (non-GCB DLBCL) whose disease has relapsed following treatment. The phase III PHOENIX trial examined whether adding ibrutinib to R-CHOP would improve treatment efficacy in previously untreated non-GCB DLBCL patients. Results demonstrated that R-CHOP plus ibrutinib was equivalent to R-CHOP alone. The study did note, however, that ibrutinib may provide some benefit in patients older than 60.

Our Team’s Take
For now, R-CHOP remains the gold-standard for most people with DLBCL, including non-GCB DLBCL. That said, it appears that BTK inhibitors have the potential to improve outcomes if the optimal patient population can be identified.

SOURCE 784 – A Global, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Phase 3 Study of Ibrutinib Plus Rituximab, Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin, Vincristine, and Prednisone (RCHOP) in Patients with Previously Untreated Non-Germinal Center B-Cell-like (GCB) Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)

Follicular Lymphoma

Our own Dr. John Leonard led the global phase III AUGMENT clinical trial comparing the efficacy and safety of combined lenalidomide plus rituximab versus rituximab alone in people with previously treated indolent lymphoma, including follicular and marginal zone lymphoma. Lenalidomide-rituximab treatment resulted in superior progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS) outcomes when compared to rituximab treatment alone, representing an important new treatment option for this patient population.

Our Team’s Take
The impressive overall survival benefit seen in the AUGMENT trial implies that single-agent rituximab may no longer be appropriate for some people with previously treated follicular lymphoma.

SOURCE 445 – AUGMENT: A Phase III Randomized Study of Lenalidomide Plus Rituximab (R2) Vs Rituximab/Placebo in Patients with Relapsed/Refractory Indolent Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Hodgkin Lymphoma

A currently accepted standard of care treatment for early-stage low-risk Hodgkin lymphoma is two cycles of ABVD chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. In the HD16 trial examining the possibility of omitting radiotherapy from the treatment regimen, investigators found that two cycles of ABVD alone does not provide adequate disease control.

Our Team’s Take
A primary goal of cancer care is to deliver a maximally effective treatment regimen while sparing patients from excessive treatment-related side effects. Yet, this research demonstrates that two cycles of ABVD alone does not provide sufficient control of early-stage, favorable risk classical Hodgkin lymphoma. Outside of clinical trials, providers should consider either the addition of radiation or additional chemotherapy.

SOURCE 925 – PET-Guided Treatment of Early-Stage Favorable Hodgkin Lymphoma: Final Results of the International, Randomized Phase 3 Trial HD16 By the German Hodgkin Study Group)

T-Cell Lymphoma

Following the positive results of a phase I trial combining brentuximab vedotin (BV) with CHP (CHOP chemotherapy minus vincristine) in frontline treatment of T-cell lymphoma, researchers tested the combination in patients with newly diagnosed CD30+ anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a type of T-cell lymphoma, in the ECHELON-2 trial. Brentuximab vedotin plus CHP was shown to produce better outcomes than standard CHOP for these patients.

Our Team’s Take
BV-CHP represents a new standard of care for anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALK-positive and ALK-negative). It is less clear that BV adds significantly to CHOP in non-ALCL T-cell lymphomas regardless of CD30 status.

SOURCE 997 – The ECHELON-2 Trial: Results of a Randomized, Double-Blind, Active-Controlled Phase 3 Study of Brentuximab Vedotin and CHP (A+CHP) Versus CHOP in the Frontline Treatment of Patients with CD30+ Peripheral T-Cell Lymphomas

BONUS: Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T Cell Update

Multiple observational studies suggested that commercial, FDA-approved CAR T cell products used as part of standard practice resulted in outcomes that were comparable to outcomes seen in clinical trials prior to the approval of CAR T cells. Even patients with characteristics that might have resulted in exclusion from clinical trials (e.g., low blood counts) appeared to have comparable outcomes.

Our Team’s Take
CAR T cells clearly have a role in people with treatment-refractory DLBCL. Nonetheless, more research will be required to further improve the efficacy and safety of CAR T cells so that patients outside of academic medical centers might have access to this new treatment approach.

SOURCE 91 – Axicabtagene Ciloleucel (Axi-cel) CD19 Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapy for Relapsed/Refractory Large B-Cell Lymphoma: Real World Experience; 92 – Axicabtagene Ciloleucel in the Real World: Outcomes and Predictors of Response, Resistance and Toxicity

 

How Clinical Trials in Dogs with Lymphoma Can Lead to New Therapies for Humans

Studying animal models to enhance the overall understanding of cancer is a longstanding and valuable practice that, until recently, had been fairly uniform. The traditional model, the laboratory mouse, has occupied the oncologic arena since the 1980s, offering researchers a way to observe tumor growth and drug response in a natural environment, as opposed to in a petri dish. This approach, known as comparative medicine, more realistically represents how cancer behaves in humans and yields insight as to how scientists can effectively treat the disease.

Vet giving dog a check up

It wasn’t until late 2005 that a bigger, potentially better animal model entered the comparative medicine scene. Publication of the canine genome enabled comparison of dogs and humans at a molecular and genetic level, revealing biological similarities in each. In October 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognized the untapped potential of the canine model in cancer research with a five-year $2.5 million grant awarded to Weill Cornell Medicine and Tufts University scientists to study new therapeutic strategies in dogs with lymphoma.

Dogs experience naturally occurring lymphoma that resembles the way that the disease manifests in humans. It is estimated that up to 80,000 dogs are diagnosed with lymphoma per year in the United States alone, with increased incidence in golden retrievers, whose lifetime risk for lymphoma is 1:8, as compared to a 1:50 risk in humans.

KRichards
Dr. Kristy Richards

“I want to cure cancer in people, and dogs provide a great opportunity for research that can help us move lymphoma therapies to the clinic for humans faster,” says the Lymphoma Program’s Kristy Richards, PhD, MD, who will lead the research as a co-principal investigator.

“We’re using the NIH grant to study immunotherapies and targeted treatment regimens in combinations that haven’t yet been tried in humans. The idea is to get to a therapy that can cure diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) in dogs. If it works well in dogs, we have better rationale to move the therapy forward in people.”

The immune system is the body’s in-house security guard that protects against infection and disease, but some forms of disease, like cancer, have evolved to evade the immune system’s defense mechanisms. Immunotherapies, which harness the power of a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer, rely upon an intact immune system, which lab mice grown in sterile cages and never challenged by sickness do not possess. Dogs, thanks to their propensity to eat, lick and roll around in whatever unsanitary substance they please, have thoroughly educated immune systems, a prime environment for testing immunotherapies.

But that is far from the only advantage of the canine model. “We can do things with the dog model that we can’t do with the mouse model, or even with the human model,” says Dr. Richards.

About two-thirds of human DLBCL patients enter remission following six cycles of standard chemotherapy regimen rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone (R-CHOP). Dogs on lower, more frequent doses of the same treatment regimen almost always enter remission – but they also almost always relapse. If they were to receive the human dose intensity, they would suffer significant impairments to quality of life, such as decreases in physical activity and appetite, and vomiting and diarrhea.

Since standard chemotherapy cures nearly 70 percent of humans with DLBCL, current clinical trials of less toxic, non-chemotherapy based regimens are limited to the one-third of people who eventually relapse. Novel treatments used in these trials must be proven effective as single agents before being combined in what would ultimately require extensive (and therefore expensive) study.

The fact that dogs are not cured by standard therapies makes them the perfect candidates for testing of new, targeted therapies with fewer toxic side effects, permitting use of doses similar to those used in humans. Through use of these novel agents, dogs help science to leapfrog ahead of years’ worth of human trialing, while science helps dogs to live longer, happier lives.

Treating people’s pet dogs also encourages a humanistic approach. Much like in human oncology, scientists work to develop therapies that take more into consideration than just killing cancer cells, like quality of life, for example.

In fact, one of Dr. Richard’s favorite aspects about her research is that she gets to help the dogs that she’s studying.

“If we can manage to do something good for human medicine at the same time that we’re helping the model organism that’s helping us to study it, that’s a great thing,” she says.

Dr. Richards says that enlisting the help of the canine model to study lymphoma is a concept that is “arriving, but has not yet arrived.” Support from the NIH, as well as from organizations like Puppy Up and Paws 4 a Cure that raise funds to conduct clinical trials for dogs, plays a major role in validating the benefits of the canine lymphoma model, but further research is required to actually reap those benefits.

Comparative

 

 

New Treatment Combination Poses Potential Way to Combat Chemo-Resistant DLBCL

Each year, roughly 20,000 Americans are diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), an aggressive cancer of abnormal B-cells. Most people with DLBCL are cured with the standard chemotherapy regimen rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone (R-CHOP), but 30-40 percent of cases are resistant to chemotherapy for reasons that may be related to the way that genes are regulated within the cancer cells.

Prior WCM laboratory research demonstrated that certain genes within chemotherapy-resistant DLBCL cells are often inappropriately turned off and that long-term exposure to low doses of oral hypomethylating agent azacitidine (also known as CC-486) can turn those genes back on, thereby re-sensitizing the cells to chemotherapy.

Lymphoma Program chief Dr. Peter Martin, Dr. Leandro Cerchietti, Dr. John P. Leonard, Dr. Maria Revuelta and Dr. ldefonso Ismael Rodriguez-Rivera, and colleagues from around the country, set out to test a novel therapeutic alternative for these chemo-resistant cases with a phase I, open-label, multicenter trial of oral azacitidine plus R-CHOP in people with high-risk, previously untreated DLBCL, grade 3B follicular lymphoma (FL), or transformed lymphoma. The trial was conducted in collaboration with Alliance Foundation Trials (AFT), a research organization that develops cancer clinical trials with pharmaceutical companies, scientific investigators and the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology (ACTO) institutional member network.

Patients in the trial received CC-486 for seven days prior to R-CHOP initiation, then for 14 days prior to each of five following R-CHOP cycles. The research team found that the combination of CC-486 plus R-CHOP was safe and well tolerated, and that it produced a higher-than-anticipated complete response (CR) rate, or disappearance of signs of cancer, exceeding 85 percent. Dr. Cerchietti’s lab also identified key changes in genes and gene expression consistent with the anticipated CC-486 effect. Dr. Martin presented the team’s findings at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition on December 9, 2017, in Atlanta, GA.

Weill Cornell Medicine

“We are at an exciting moment in time: CC-486 is emerging simultaneously with a peak in collaborative efforts between scientists, physicians and patients,” said Dr. Martin. “We are working day and night to move this concept forward, including the possible opening of randomized trials.”