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Adequate Testing Critical to Advancing Care in NSCLC Patients With Rare Mutations

Gina Columbus @ginacolumbusonc
Published: Thursday, Dec 15, 2016

Martin Dietrich, MD, PhD

Martin Dietrich, MD, PhD

Though testing for mutations in EGFR, ALK, and ROS1 is a standard approach in patients with non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the same is not true for less common genetic abnormalities, including RET, BRAF, c-MET, and NTRK.

Testing for these mutations is critical, according to Martin Dietrich, MD, PhD, because they are not as “rare” as some in the oncology community might think.

“Especially in adenocarcinomas of NSCLC, rare mutations are not quite what the term applies,” said Dietrich. “You are looking at maybe 1% to 2% of a subset, but a subset of a very large portion of cancers. So, with 250,000 lung cancer diagnoses a year, 1% or 2% of patients affected includes several thousand patients a year. Therefore, ‘rare’ might not be the right term to phrase it.”

The significance of testing for these mutations is only increasing as new treatments that target these abnormalities are being explored. For example, the ongoing phase II basket STARTRK-2 trial that is examining the multikinase inhibitor entrectinib in patients with NTRK, ROS1, or ALK-positive tumors has already shown activity across solid tumors, including NSCLC (NCT02568267). Treatment with entrectinib achieved objective responses in 79% of patients who were enrolled in an earlier study, called STARTRK-1.

Dietrich summarized the available treatments for these patient populations, as well as diagnostic and testing approaches, during the 2016 OncLive State of the Science Summit on Advanced Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer.

In an interview at the meeting, Dietrich, a thoracic oncologist at Memorial Healthcare System, discussed these subtypes of rare mutations in NSCLC, the major challenges in treating these patients, and the hope that immunotherapy will be able to have a positive impact for these individuals.

OncLive: What are the major challenges for these patients with rare mutations?

Dietrich: There are 2 major challenges. One is the availability of testing based on the availability of insurance coverage. That has been a huge concern, especially when those procedures and tissues are obtained in a hospital setting. There is a reimbursement issue.

The second major issue is the availability of sufficient tissue. We are looking at the most efficient tissue optimization. To the best extent possible, we must optimize the tissue available from biopsies from lung tissues that are not easily accessible.

What do community oncologists need to know about treating these patients?

Our goal is to improve cancer care and to just standardize it. This is to make sure that patients, no matter where they are being treated, receive the same standard-of-care treatment. At this point, this includes broad genomic sequencing of cancers with the possibility of rebiopsy or liquid biopsies in the upfront setting.

They also should be aware of the guideline-approved treatment approaches that are available in this setting beyond EGFR, ALK, and ROS1 that most people are familiar with.

Taking a look at the field of lung cancer overall, what particular areas are you excited about?

The main excitement in the field lies with immunotherapy. However, coming back to my lecture, the interesting next question to answer is how to make immunotherapy as a modality available to patients with 1 of these targetable mutations. This will make it more specific, and could allow not only impressive responses but could also induce lasting responses that are durable and would allow patients to live longer and even control their cancer.

What ongoing trials in this area are you anticipating the results of?

There are several. There is a CheckMate trial that is going to be very interesting. It essentially is looking at immunotherapy applications in unselected populations in the first-line setting. We have seen the introduction of so many new agents in this setting, but it’s now going to be the task to sort out the optimal sequence and patient population, as well as the optimal duration of therapy.


View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Community Practice Connections™: 18th Annual International Lung Cancer Congress®Oct 31, 20181.5
Clinical Interchange™: Translating Research to Inform Changing Paradigms: Assessment of Emerging Immuno-Oncology Strategies and Combinations across Lung, Head and Neck, and Bladder CancersOct 31, 20182.0
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