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Concept: Oncology


Genomic instability is a hallmark of cancer often associated with poor patient outcome and resistance to targeted therapy. Assessment of genomic instability in bulk tumor or biopsy can be complicated due to sample availability, surrounding tissue contamination, or tumor heterogeneity. The Epic Sciences circulating tumor cell (CTC) platform utilizes a non-enrichment based approach for the detection and characterization of rare tumor cells in clinical blood samples. Genomic profiling of individual CTCs could provide a portrait of cancer heterogeneity, identify clonal and sub-clonal drivers, and monitor disease progression. To that end, we developed a single cell Copy Number Variation (CNV) Assay to evaluate genomic instability and CNVs in patient CTCs. For proof of concept, prostate cancer cell lines, LNCaP, PC3 and VCaP, were spiked into healthy donor blood to create mock patient-like samples for downstream single cell genomic analysis. In addition, samples from seven metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients were included to evaluate clinical feasibility. CTCs were enumerated and characterized using the Epic Sciences CTC Platform. Identified single CTCs were recovered, whole genome amplified, and sequenced using an Illumina NextSeq 500. CTCs were then analyzed for genome-wide copy number variations, followed by genomic instability analyses. Large-scale state transitions (LSTs) were measured as surrogates of genomic instability. Genomic instability scores were determined reproducibly for LNCaP, PC3, and VCaP, and were higher than white blood cell (WBC) controls from healthy donors. A wide range of LST scores were observed within and among the seven mCRPC patient samples. On the gene level, loss of the PTEN tumor suppressor was observed in PC3 and 5/7 (71%) patients. Amplification of the androgen receptor (AR) gene was observed in VCaP cells and 5/7 (71%) mCRPC patients. Using an in silico down-sampling approach, we determined that DNA copy number and genomic instability can be detected with as few as 350K sequencing reads. The data shown here demonstrate the feasibility of detecting genomic instabilities at the single cell level using the Epic Sciences CTC Platform. Understanding CTC heterogeneity has great potential for patient stratification prior to treatment with targeted therapies and for monitoring disease evolution during treatment.

Concepts: Tumor, Human genome, Prostate cancer, Genetics, Oncology, Copy number variation, Gene, Cancer


Background In a phase 1-2 trial of albumin-bound paclitaxel (nab-paclitaxel) plus gemcitabine, substantial clinical activity was noted in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. We conducted a phase 3 study of the efficacy and safety of the combination versus gemcitabine monotherapy in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. Methods We randomly assigned patients with a Karnofsky performance-status score of 70 or more (on a scale from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating better performance status) to nab-paclitaxel (125 mg per square meter of body-surface area) followed by gemcitabine (1000 mg per square meter) on days 1, 8, and 15 every 4 weeks or gemcitabine monotherapy (1000 mg per square meter) weekly for 7 of 8 weeks (cycle 1) and then on days 1, 8, and 15 every 4 weeks (cycle 2 and subsequent cycles). Patients received the study treatment until disease progression. The primary end point was overall survival; secondary end points were progression-free survival and overall response rate. Results A total of 861 patients were randomly assigned to nab-paclitaxel plus gemcitabine (431 patients) or gemcitabine (430). The median overall survival was 8.5 months in the nab-paclitaxel-gemcitabine group as compared with 6.7 months in the gemcitabine group (hazard ratio for death, 0.72; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.62 to 0.83; P<0.001). The survival rate was 35% in the nab-paclitaxel-gemcitabine group versus 22% in the gemcitabine group at 1 year, and 9% versus 4% at 2 years. The median progression-free survival was 5.5 months in the nab-paclitaxel-gemcitabine group, as compared with 3.7 months in the gemcitabine group (hazard ratio for disease progression or death, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.58 to 0.82; P<0.001); the response rate according to independent review was 23% versus 7% in the two groups (P<0.001). The most common adverse events of grade 3 or higher were neutropenia (38% in the nab-paclitaxel-gemcitabine group vs. 27% in the gemcitabine group), fatigue (17% vs. 7%), and neuropathy (17% vs. 1%). Febrile neutropenia occurred in 3% versus 1% of the patients in the two groups. In the nab-paclitaxel-gemcitabine group, neuropathy of grade 3 or higher improved to grade 1 or lower in a median of 29 days. Conclusions In patients with metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma, nab-paclitaxel plus gemcitabine significantly improved overall survival, progression-free survival, and response rate, but rates of peripheral neuropathy and myelosuppression were increased. (Funded by Celgene; number, NCT00844649 .).

Concepts: Normal distribution, Metastasis, Chemotherapy, Clinical trial, Oncology, Lung cancer, Cancer, Pancreatic cancer


Payment for health care services, including oncology services, is shifting from volume-based fee-for-service to value-based accountable care. The objective of accountable care is to support providers with flexibility and resources to reform care delivery, accompanied by accountability for maintaining or improving outcomes while lowering costs. These changes depend on health care payers, systems, physicians, and patients having meaningful measures to assess care delivery and outcomes and to balance financial incentives for lowering costs while providing greater value. Gaps in accountable care measure sets may cause missed signals of problems in care and missed opportunities for improvement. Measures to balance financial incentives may be particularly important for oncology, where high cost and increasingly targeted diagnostics and therapeutics intersect with the highly complex and heterogeneous needs and preferences of cancer patients. Moreover, the concept of value in cancer care, defined as the measure of outcomes achieved per costs incurred, is rarely incorporated into performance measurement. This article analyzes gaps in oncology measures in accountable care, discusses challenging measurement issues, and offers strategies for improving oncology measurement. Discern Health analyzed gaps in accountable care measure sets for 10 cancer conditions that were selected based on incidence and prevalence; impact on cost and mortality; a diverse range of high-cost diagnostic procedures and treatment modalities (e.g., genomic tumor testing, molecularly targeted therapies, and stereotactic radiotherapy); and disparities or performance gaps in patient care. We identified gaps by comparing accountable care set measures with high-priority measurement opportunities derived from practice guidelines developed by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and other oncology specialty societies. We found significant gaps in accountable care measure sets across all 10 conditions. For each gap, we searched for available measures not already being used in programs. Where existing measures did not cover gaps, we recommended refinements to existing measures or proposed measures for development. We shared the results of the measure gap analysis with a roundtable of national experts in cancer care and oncology measurement. During a web meeting and an in-person meeting, the roundtable reviewed the gap analysis and identified priority opportunities for improving measurement. The group determined that overreliance on condition-specific process measures is problematic because of rapidly changing evidence and increasing personalization of cancer care. The group’s primary recommendation for enhancing measure sets was to prioritize and develop effective cross-cutting measures that assess clinical and patient-reported outcomes, including shared decision making, care planning, and symptom control. The group also prioritized certain safety and structural measures to complement condition-specific process measures. Further, the group explored strategies for using clinical pathways and devising layered measurement approaches to improve measurement for accountable care. This article presents the roundtable’s conclusions and recommendations for next steps.

Concepts: Chemotherapy, Cancer patient, Health insurance, Tumor, Health care, Cancer, Oncology, Medicine


Metastasis through the bloodstream contributes to poor prognosis in many types of cancer. Mounting evidence implicates selectin-based adhesive interactions between cancer cells and the blood vessel wall as facilitating this process, in a manner similar to leukocyte trafficking during inflammation. Here, we describe a unique approach to target and kill colon and prostate cancer cells in the blood that causes circulating leukocytes to present the cancer-specific TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL) on their surface along with E-selectin adhesion receptor. This approach, demonstrated in vitro with human blood and also in mice, mimics the cytotoxic activity of natural killer cells and increases the surface area available for delivery of the receptor-mediated signal. The resulting “unnatural killer cells” hold promise as an effective means to neutralize circulating tumor cells that enter blood with the potential to form new metastases.

Concepts: Metastasis, Oncology, Lymphocyte, Blood vessel, Prostate cancer, Blood, Cancer, Immune system


Background Pembrolizumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody against programmed death 1 (PD-1) that has antitumor activity in advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), with increased activity in tumors that express programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1). Methods In this open-label, phase 3 trial, we randomly assigned 305 patients who had previously untreated advanced NSCLC with PD-L1 expression on at least 50% of tumor cells and no sensitizing mutation of the epidermal growth factor receptor gene or translocation of the anaplastic lymphoma kinase gene to receive either pembrolizumab (at a fixed dose of 200 mg every 3 weeks) or the investigator’s choice of platinum-based chemotherapy. Crossover from the chemotherapy group to the pembrolizumab group was permitted in the event of disease progression. The primary end point, progression-free survival, was assessed by means of blinded, independent, central radiologic review. Secondary end points were overall survival, objective response rate, and safety. Results Median progression-free survival was 10.3 months (95% confidence interval [CI], 6.7 to not reached) in the pembrolizumab group versus 6.0 months (95% CI, 4.2 to 6.2) in the chemotherapy group (hazard ratio for disease progression or death, 0.50; 95% CI, 0.37 to 0.68; P<0.001). The estimated rate of overall survival at 6 months was 80.2% in the pembrolizumab group versus 72.4% in the chemotherapy group (hazard ratio for death, 0.60; 95% CI, 0.41 to 0.89; P=0.005). The response rate was higher in the pembrolizumab group than in the chemotherapy group (44.8% vs. 27.8%), the median duration of response was longer (not reached [range, 1.9+ to 14.5+ months] vs. 6.3 months [range, 2.1+ to 12.6+]), and treatment-related adverse events of any grade were less frequent (occurring in 73.4% vs. 90.0% of patients), as were grade 3, 4, or 5 treatment-related adverse events (26.6% vs. 53.3%). Conclusions In patients with advanced NSCLC and PD-L1 expression on at least 50% of tumor cells, pembrolizumab was associated with significantly longer progression-free and overall survival and with fewer adverse events than was platinum-based chemotherapy. (Funded by Merck; KEYNOTE-024 number, NCT02142738 .).

Concepts: Non-small cell lung carcinoma, Monoclonal antibodies, Epidermal growth factor, Immune system, Lung cancer, Oncology, Epidermal growth factor receptor, Cancer


The relationship between body size and prostate cancer risk, and in particular risk by tumour characteristics, is not clear because most studies have not differentiated between high-grade or advanced stage tumours, but rather have assessed risk with a combined category of aggressive disease. We investigated the association of height and adiposity with incidence of and death from prostate cancer in 141,896 men in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort.

Concepts: Neoplasm, Tumor, Nutrition, Prostate cancer, Oncology, Epidemiology, Obesity, Cancer


Abnormal cancer metabolism creates a glycolytic-dependency which can be exploited by lowering glucose availability to the tumor. The ketogenic diet (KD) is a low carbohydrate, high fat diet which decreases blood glucose and elevates blood ketones and has been shown to slow cancer progression in animals and humans. Abnormal tumor vasculature creates hypoxic pockets which promote cancer progression and further increase the glycolytic-dependency of cancers. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO2T) saturates tumors with oxygen, reversing the cancer promoting effects of tumor hypoxia. Since these non-toxic therapies exploit overlapping metabolic deficiencies of cancer, we tested their combined effects on cancer progression in a natural model of metastatic disease.

Concepts: Breast cancer, Metabolism, Protein, Nutrition, Carbohydrate, Oncology, Cancer, Oxygen


BACKGROUND: Endocrine disrupting chemicals and carcinogens, some of which may not yet have been classified as such, are present in many occupational environments and could increase breast cancer risk. Prior research has identified associations with breast cancer and work in agricultural and industrial settings. The purpose of this study was to further characterize possible links between breast cancer risk and occupation, particularly in farming and manufacturing, as well as to examine the impacts of early agricultural exposures, and exposure effects that are specific to the endocrine receptor status of tumours. METHODS: 1006 breast cancer cases referred by a regional cancer center and 1146 randomly-selected community controls provided detailed data including occupational and reproductive histories. All reported jobs were industry- and occupation-coded for the construction of cumulative exposure metrics representing likely exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. In a frequency-matched case–control design, exposure effects were estimated using conditional logistic regression. RESULTS: Across all sectors, women in jobs with potentially high exposures to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors had elevated breast cancer risk (OR = 1.42; 95% CI, 1.18-1.73, for 10 years exposure duration). Specific sectors with elevated risk included: agriculture (OR = 1.36; 95% CI, 1.01-1.82); bars-gambling (OR = 2.28; 95% CI, 0.94-5.53); automotive plastics manufacturing (OR = 2.68; 95% CI, 1.47-4.88), food canning (OR = 2.35; 95% CI, 1.00-5.53), and metalworking (OR = 1.73; 95% CI, 1.02-2.92). Estrogen receptor status of tumors with elevated risk differed by occupational grouping. Premenopausal breast cancer risk was highest for automotive plastics (OR = 4.76; 95% CI, 1.58-14.4) and food canning (OR = 5.70; 95% CI, 1.03-31.5). CONCLUSIONS: These observations support hypotheses linking breast cancer risk and exposures likely to include carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and demonstrate the value of detailed work histories in environmental and occupational epidemiology.

Concepts: Endocrine system, Endocrinology, Oncology, Estrogen, Estrogen receptor, Endocrine disruptor, Cancer, Breast cancer


Background Somatic mutations have the potential to encode “non-self” immunogenic antigens. We hypothesized that tumors with a large number of somatic mutations due to mismatch-repair defects may be susceptible to immune checkpoint blockade. Methods We conducted a phase 2 study to evaluate the clinical activity of pembrolizumab, an anti-programmed death 1 immune checkpoint inhibitor, in 41 patients with progressive metastatic carcinoma with or without mismatch-repair deficiency. Pembrolizumab was administered intravenously at a dose of 10 mg per kilogram of body weight every 14 days in patients with mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancers, patients with mismatch repair-proficient colorectal cancers, and patients with mismatch repair-deficient cancers that were not colorectal. The coprimary end points were the immune-related objective response rate and the 20-week immune-related progression-free survival rate. Results The immune-related objective response rate and immune-related progression-free survival rate were 40% (4 of 10 patients) and 78% (7 of 9 patients), respectively, for mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancers and 0% (0 of 18 patients) and 11% (2 of 18 patients) for mismatch repair-proficient colorectal cancers. The median progression-free survival and overall survival were not reached in the cohort with mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancer but were 2.2 and 5.0 months, respectively, in the cohort with mismatch repair-proficient colorectal cancer (hazard ratio for disease progression or death, 0.10 [P<0.001], and hazard ratio for death, 0.22 [P=0.05]). Patients with mismatch repair-deficient noncolorectal cancer had responses similar to those of patients with mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancer (immune-related objective response rate, 71% [5 of 7 patients]; immune-related progression-free survival rate, 67% [4 of 6 patients]). Whole-exome sequencing revealed a mean of 1782 somatic mutations per tumor in mismatch repair-deficient tumors, as compared with 73 in mismatch repair-proficient tumors (P=0.007), and high somatic mutation loads were associated with prolonged progression-free survival (P=0.02). Conclusions This study showed that mismatch-repair status predicted clinical benefit of immune checkpoint blockade with pembrolizumab. (Funded by Johns Hopkins University and others; number, NCT01876511 .).

Concepts: Ionizing radiation, Metastasis, Neoplasm, Oncology, Colorectal cancer, Immune system, Mutation, Cancer


Excess body weight, physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption and certain dietary factors are individually related to colorectal cancer (CRC) risk; however, little is known about their joint effects. The aim of this study was to develop a healthy lifestyle index (HLI) composed of five potentially modifiable lifestyle factors - healthy weight, physical activity, non-smoking, limited alcohol consumption and a healthy diet, and to explore the association of this index with CRC incidence using data collected within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort.

Concepts: Diet, Health, Weight loss, Oncology, Colorectal cancer, Epidemiology, Obesity, Nutrition