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Role of Immunotherapy Being Defined in Colorectal Cancer

Danielle Bucco
Published: Wednesday, Nov 22, 2017

A. David McCollum, MD

A. David McCollum, MD

The first-line setting for patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) has a handful of options; however, there are additional regimens that could show promise if moved upfront, explains A. David McCollum, MD.

For example, following the August 2017 FDA approval of nivolumab (Opdivo) for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) metastatic CRC that progressed following treatment with fluoropyrimidine, oxaliplatin, and irinotecan, researchers are now questioning whether these agents should be moved upfront and in combination with other systemic therapies.

“The very exciting field of checkpoint inhibitors is still evolving, and we are trying to understand where they fit in the world of CRC therapy,” said McCollum, a hematologist and medical oncologist at Texas Oncology.

In an interview during the 2017 OncLive® State of the Science SummitTM on Gastrointestinal Cancers, McCollum discussed the optimal management of CRC in the first-line setting and the ongoing research with checkpoint inhibitors designed to benefit larger groups of patients.

OncLive: Can you discuss current developments in the field of CRC?

McCollum: We had a big burst of activity in the early part of this millennia when many new agents were approved. There was a decade of research to sort through to decide what the optimal therapy is—either with chemotherapy or a biologic agent—for patients with CRC. During that time, we understood that there were some molecular features that we could use as a biomarker to help predict optimal regimens for a particular form of CRC.

The most widely used is RAS testing, which physicians are familiar with. We now understand that BRAF and HER2 alterations might also specify certain therapies for patients.

In my lecture, I mainly discussed optimizing first-line therapy. Some of the important points are that chemotherapy doublets and a biologic agent are standard as a first-line therapy. There are many options and there is not necessarily one best option. It is becoming clearer that the sidedness of the primary tumor may help to predict which biologic agent we should use. The EGFR-targeted agents do not seem to provide as much benefit for patients who have a right-sided primary tumor. We see that those are used more commonly in patients with left-sided tumors. 

How do you determine the sequencing of these agents once a patient progresses after first-line treatment?

We would discuss a biologic drug with a combination chemotherapy platform. FOLFOX or FOLFIRI are standard-of-care regimens at this point. We treat to a maximum response. The maintenance studies have varied with how long patients are on treatment; it has been from 3 months all the way up to 6 months. There are some modifications needed in the intensity of the chemotherapy to maintain that benefit for as long as we can. 

The best maintenance therapy for a patient depends on what their frontline regimen is. Some would argue that it is fluoropyrimidine alone where as others would argue it is fluoropyrimidine and a biologic agent. Some patients who are treated with an EGFR-targeted agent in the frontline setting believe that it could be a continuation of the EGFR-targeted agents alone or until patients have progression.

There is also some debate about what constitutes enough progression that you then need to transition onto second-line therapy. A lot of things go into play there, not necessarily how patients are doing radiographically, but also how they do clinically, where the progression is, or if the patient is symptomatic or not. There are many different features that go into that decision.

What current regimens in the pipeline are exciting?

The most exciting thing for the whole field of CRC is how to integrate the checkpoint inhibitors. We know the patients who have MSI-H phenotype or a mismatch-repair deficient immunohistochemistry profile seem to be the patients who derive the most benefit from PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors. There are subsets of patients who are outside of that subgroup who also have some benefit, but patients with MSI-H tumors clearly have the most benefit.

The question now is, “Do we try to use these agents upfront?” There is an ongoing trial at my institution looking at chemotherapy versus a PD-1 inhibitor. It is accruing slowly, as it is only a small subset of patients and there is already a lot of belief in the community that this group needs to receive a checkpoint inhibitor.


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Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Community Practice Connections™: Oncology Best Practice™: Choosing Therapies for Patients with EGFR-mutant Lung Cancers: More Options... More Decisions... Better OutcomesApr 27, 20182.0
Community Practice Connections™: 21st Annual International Congress on Hematologic Malignancies®: Focus on Leukemias, Lymphomas, and MyelomaApr 27, 20182.0
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