Veliparib Shows Potential in Squamous Cell NSCLC

Special Reports, NSCLC (Issue 5), Volume 5, Issue 1

Suresh S. Ramalingam, MD, discussed the potential of veliparib as a treatment for patients with squamous cell NSCLC in an interview with Targeted Oncology.

Suresh S. Ramalingam, MD

Details about an experimental treatment option for patients with squamous cell non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) were presented at the 2014 European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress. Suresh S. Ramalingam, MD, presented preliminary data from a randomized, phase II trial that demonstrated an improvement in outcomes with the combination of the poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitor veliparib and chemotherapy in patients with this hard-to-treat histology.

In the study, progression-free survival (PFS) was improved by 35% and overall survival (OS) was extended by 30% with the combination of veliparib and chemotherapy in patients with previously untreated metastatic or advanced NSCLC. In patients with squamous histology, PFS was 6.1 months with veliparib compared with 4.1 months (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.50;P= .06) and the OS was 10.3 months with veliparib compared with 8.4 months (HR = 0.71;P= .22).

Peter Hammerman, MD, PhD, Discusses the Future of the Treatment of Squamous Cell Lung Cancer

Hammerman is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Q: How was it discovered that veliparib had utility in lung cancer?

Ramalingam, a professor of medical oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, discussed the results of the trial and the potential of veliparib as a treatment for patients with squamous cell NSCLC in an interview withTargeted Oncology.A:PARP is a protein that’s involved in DNA repair and veliparib is a very potent inhibitor of PARP1 and PARP2. Basically, when you give a PARP inhibitor, the cell is not able to repair DNA damage effectively. What we’ve seen in the past is if the cells have deficiency in homologous recombination repairs, which is what happens inBRCAgene mutations, those cells become far more dependent on the basic repair pathway, which is exactly where the PARP comes into play, even though the role of PARP is well known beyond that.

So by blocking DNA in cells that are critically dependent on that pathway, you are able to induce lethal damage. In lung cancer, if you look at what the common modalities of treatment are, we use platinum compounds, which are the cornerstones of therapy, and then we use radiation, and both of these work by inducing DNA damage. Cells that can repair the DNA damage end up not being sensitive to radiation or chemotherapy with platinum-based regimens.

Q: What were the findings from this phase II trial?

We and other labs have been studying the combination of chemotherapy with PARP inhibition, and veliparib in particular, and they have shown that veliparib is associated with increased efficacy when it is combined with chemotherapy or radiation. That was the basis for our clinical evaluation of veliparib in combination with platinum-based chemotherapy.A:This was a randomized, placebo-controlled trial where we enrolled patients with previously untreated NSCLC, [as] first-line therapy for metastatic disease, and patients were randomized 2:1 to get carboplatin and paclitaxel with either veliparib or placebo. The veliparib was given for the first 7 days of each cycle, chemotherapy was given on day 3, veliparib was given from days 1 through 7, and the reason we used this strategy was because we wanted to prime the cells with PARP inhibition and then introduce chemotherapy.

Patients were allowed to continue the treatment for a maximum of 6 cycles, there was no maintenance therapy involved, and the primary endpoint for this was PFS. We also looked at OS, objective response rates, and the safety of the regimen as secondary endpoints.

Of a total 158 patients, 105 [were] randomized to the experimental arm with veliparib and 53 patients were enrolled to the control arm with chemotherapy and placebo. In this trial, the baseline characteristics were evenly matched and the main stratification factors were histology—either squamous or nonsquamous—and smoking status—never versus current versus past. The randomization resulted in equal distribution of histology and smoking status across the 2 arms.

As far as safety, we found that the combination was tolerated really well. There were no toxicities that occurred more frequently with veliparib-chemotherapy compared to chemotherapy alone with placebo. Some of the common toxicities that you would see with chemotherapy, like neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, or anemia, were very similar between the 2 arms of the trial. Grade 1/2 toxicities were also very similar. Notably, there was no evidence of more nausea, vomiting, or fatigue with the addition of veliparib to chemotherapy.

When we look at efficacy, the overall primary endpoint, PFS, was 4.2 months median in the control arm and 5.8 months median with veliparib (HR = 0.74). The OS was 9.1 months in the control arm compared with 11.7 months in the veliparib arm. These differences, while clinically meaningful, did not reach statistical significance.

When we look at specific histologies, we found the most exciting data. In squamous histology, the median PFS improved from 4.1 months to 6.1 months with veliparib. In nonsquamous, we did not see a significant difference.

The OS results also mirrored what we saw with PFS. The squamous group had a median OS of 8.4 months with chemotherapy alone and 10.3 months with the combination. These results suggest that the squamous group had the best benefit with the combination.

Another observation that we noted was the response rate, which was very similar between the control and the experimental arm. However, the duration of response was almost 2-fold higher with the addition of veliparib (3.3 months to 6.9 months). What this tells us is that patients whose tumors were sensitive to platinum-based therapy experience an even better response and a longer duration of response with the addition of veliparib.

Q: Can you speculate why the patients with squamous histology responded better to the therapy?

Q: Could veliparib ever be used as monotherapy or combined with agents other than chemotherapy in the future?

Essentially, the results showed that the combination of veliparib with carboplatin and paclitaxel is particularly more efficacious to squamous histology and that is the histologic subtype we are going to be moving into a phase III trial. In fact, a phase III trial is already under way.A:At this point, it’s hard to say exactly the reasons behind that. We’re still trying to understand the differences. We know that DNA repair capacity may depend on histologic subtype but this is something that we are obviously looking into more carefully.A:There is certainly room for additional novel combination regimens. As monotherapy in lung cancer, we don’t think veliparib is going to be an effective agent unless, of course, we identify potentially a group of patients who have lowBRCAfunction, not mutation. That’s a group that’s not particularly a high proportion and we haven’t done much work in that group with any drug, for that matter. In terms of novel combinations, there are increasing possibilities. We are beginning to understand more and more the role of PARP in similar functions beyond DNA repair and that paves the way for a variety of combinations that one could think about beyond chemotherapy.

Q: What are some of the challenges in treating lung cancer, and how would veliparib, if approved, help overcome those challenges?

What is really interesting is the combination with radiation, where we are seeing very interesting preliminary preclinical observations and, therefore, trials are looking at veliparib in combination with radiation in stage III lung cancer patients.A: Lung cancer is a very heterogeneous disease. In the setting of targeted therapies, we’ve seen that adenocarcinoma patients have a number of driver mutations and, therefore, specifically targeted drugs are being studied for them. In squamous cell, we don’t have any targeted drug that has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment and this is very much a patient population that is looking for new ways to treat them. We feel that if the phase II results can be confirmed in a phase III trial, veliparib can be an important component of treating squamous-cell cancer in the first-line setting. Squamous cell patients are 20% to 25% of all our patients with lung cancer in this country and even a bigger proportion in Europe and other countries.