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Combining Vismodegib With Radiation May Benefit Patients With Basal Cell Carcinoma

Laura Panjwani
Published: Monday, May 02, 2016

Chris Barker, MD, PhD

Chris Barker, MD, PhD

For most patients with basal cell carcinoma, surgery and radiation have proven to be effective approaches. However, a small subset of patients develop locally advanced basal cell carcinoma, which presents a greater treatment challenge, explains Chris Barker, MD, PhD, a radiation oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC).

“The bigger challenge with basal cell carcinoma occurs when it has grown in a locally advanced fashion, meaning it has grown to such a size, or has invaded and caused such local destruction, that surgery is no longer a viable option,” he says.

As a potential treatment for some patients in this setting, a single-arm phase II study (NCT01835626), led by Barker at MSKCC and Sue Yom, MD, at the University of California San Francisco, is investigating radiation therapy plus the hedgehog pathway inhibitor vismodegib (Erivedge) in patients with locally advanced basal cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

The study, which is currently accruing, will include an estimated 24 patients who will receive vismodegib daily for 12 weeks followed by vismodegib and radiation for 7 weeks.

The primary endpoint is to determine the local-regional control rate at 12 months from protocol therapy completion, defined as complete or partial response, with absence of progressive disease within the irradiated planning tumor volumes. Secondary endpoints include safety and probability of progression-free survival.

This study will provide important insight in treating a patient population that currently does not have many options, says Barker.

“Thankfully, most patients don’t end up with a large, unresectable basal cell carcinoma,” he says. “But for the few patients who find themselves in that situation, I think this study is very valuable. It really provides a novel treatment option that does not currently exist.”

In an interview with OncLive, Barker further explains the goals of the study, the possible synergy between vismodegib and radiation, and what oncologists should know about using hedgehog pathway inhibitors.

OncLive: What is the objective of this study?

Barker: The goal of the study is to see if we can improve upon regional and local control of the basal cell carcinoma. For the patients who are being studied in this trial, surgery would be a very radical, drastic, and potentially morbid undertaking. Patients in that situation can often be treated and cured with radiation therapy.

However, we know from previous studies, that although many patients do well with the approach of radiation alone, it is unsuccessful for many. The idea with this study is to combine vismodegib with radiation with the intent of creating a more effective therapeutic combination. We think this an interesting and rational combination of treatment, which is radiation and drugs, such as vismodegib.

Why investigate this combination in head and neck basal cell carcinoma?

We are studying the head and neck–primary carcinomas because, with very locally advanced basal cell carcinomas, it is a harder area for surgeons to remove them. This is due to the important tissues that are near the basal cells. They are near the eyes, the mouth, and the ears.

In those cases, a surgical procedure that would require a removal of the entire basal cell carcinoma would require the removal of a very important body part—so that is why we focused on that population. The head and neck is full of essential body parts. Most basal cell cancers happen in the head and neck area, so it is an area where we tend to see this problem most often.

Is there a potential synergy between radiation therapy and vismodegib?

Preclinical studies have shown that vismodegib may actually change the way that cancer cells respond to radiation. It may make them more sensitive to radiation.

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