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Expert Discusses Treatment Advances in ALK-Positive NSCLC

Gina Columbus @ginacolumbusonc
Published: Tuesday, Jan 09, 2018

Erminia Massarelli, MD, PhD
Erminia Massarelli, MD, PhD
The November 2017 FDA approval of the ALK inhibitor alectinib (Alecensa) for the frontline treatment of patients with ALK-positive non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) quickly changed the standard of care. But ongoing research suggests that other ALK inhibitors are also poised to significantly impact this patient population.

The FDA granted an accelerated approval to brigatinib (Alunbrig) for treatment of patients with metastatic ALK-positive NSCLC who are resistant to prior crizotinib (Xalkori) in April 2017. The agency then approved brigatinib at a 180-mg dose; previously, it was only available as 30- and 90-mg tablets. Currently, this agent is being investigated as a first-line treatment versus crizotinib in the phase III ATLA-1L trial (NCT02737501).

Also in April 2017, lorlatinib, a selective brain-penetrant ALK/ROS1 tyrosine kinase inhibitor active against most known resistance mutations, won a breakthrough therapy designation for use in patients with ALK-positive metastatic NSCLC who have previously received 1 or more ALK inhibitors. An approval of lorlatinib, experts say, could allow for an appropriate choice for patients who develop resistance to alectinib in the first-line space.

“Brigatinib was approved [as a] second-line ALK inhibitor and that is a very interesting drug. However, lorlatinib is also very promising,” said Erminia Massarelli, MD, PhD.

In an interview during the 2017 OncLive® State of the Science SummitTM on Advanced Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer, Massarelli, an associate clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology and Therapeutics Research, City of Hope, discussed the evolving paradigm of ALK-positive NSCLC based on recent regulatory decisions and what additional advancements are expected in the year ahead.

OncLive: Please provide an overview of your presentation on targeted therapies for ALK-positive NSCLC.

Massarelli: ALK-mutated NSCLC [makes up a small percentage] of all NSCLCs, and they are presented in a very selected group. They are usually associated with a never smoking history and a young patient population, and are generally diagnosed at metastatic stage. The treatment of [patients with] ALK-translocated lung cancer has been completely changed by our ability [to develop] ALK inhibitors. 

The first [ALK inhibitor] was crizotinib (Xalkori). It was readily available in anaplastic large cell lymphoma and approved in 2011 for the first time [in lung cancer]. Naturally, it was shown to be very effective, but now we have new-generation ALK inhibitors. This is mainly alectinib; as shown in the ALEX trial, published by Dr Solange Peters. It shows superiority in comparison to crizotinib in the treatment of first-line ALK-translocated patients.

How has the FDA approval of alectinib changed this landscape?

Today, we have a new standard first-line treatment, which is alectinib and is indicated for patients with brain metastases. In fact, in a clinical trial, there was a head-to-head comparison between alectinib and crizotinib. Patients who received alectinib had better progression-free survival than those who got crizotinib. In particular, the development of brain metastases was much lower in the alectinib arm versus the crizotinib arm. 

In addition, the side effect profile is better for alectinib when compared with crizotinib and ceritinib (Zykadia). Alectinib is a drug easily managed in patients and it allows for patients to have fewer breaks on therapy. 

What other inhibitors are showing promise in the pipeline?

We are seeing change in our practice for the first-line setting. Unfortunately, patients eventually develop resistance to ALK inhibitors, even the new-generation inhibitors, and there are many other ALK inhibitors that are being developed. Among those, there are brigatinib and lorlatinib, and they actually have different [levels of] efficacy in different mutations.

Lorlatinib looks like, at least from preclinical data, to have activity in the majority of known ALK mutations. We are waiting on more [data on] this third-generation ALK inhibitor. As of today, we know that first-line alectinib is effective and then next-generation ALK inhibitors are the ones that are promising as second- and third-line therapies. In addition, it is possible to use crizotinib and ceritinib (Zykadia) later on if you have the choice of these drugs.

View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Year in Review™: Reflecting on Recent Evidence With an Eye to the Future of Lung Cancer ManagementMar 30, 20191.5
Online Medical Crossfire®: 5th Annual Miami Lung Cancer ConferenceMay 30, 20196.5
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