Conference Coverage

Pancreatic cancer expression signature is linked to chemoresistance



Interrogation of the pancreatic cancer genome and transcriptome identifies distinct molecular subtypes that have differing prognosis and response to chemotherapy, according to new data from the COMPASS trial reported at the 2019 GI Cancers Symposium.

Dr. Jennifer J. Knox

“We now have two standard chemotherapy regimens that we use in the first-line setting, modified FOLFIRINOX (mFOLFIRINOX) and gemcitabine–nab-paclitaxel, but we lack any real biomarker strategies on which to choose for treatments, and many of our clinical trials in pancreas cancer have failed,” noted senior investigator Jennifer J. Knox, MD, FRCPC, codirector of the McCain Centre for Pancreatic Cancer, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto.

In the past year, genomic profiling studies using different platforms have yielded similar results, suggesting that about 30% of patients with pancreatic cancer have actionable mutations that could help guide treatment choices.

The COMPASS trial prospectively recruited patients with advanced pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma prior to first-line chemotherapy for tumor whole-genome sequencing and RNA sequencing. The trial previously established feasibility, with sequencing successfully completed in more than 90% of patients and availability of whole-genome results before the first disease assessment CT scan at 8 weeks (Clin Cancer Res. 2018;24[6]:1344-54).

New outcomes data for the 150 patients in the intention-to-treat population showed that overall survival was almost 4 months longer for those having a classic modified Moffitt RNA expression signature compared with those having a basal-like one. Similarly, it was more than 2 months longer for those having high versus low expression of the transcription factor GATA6.

In addition, among the subset of patients given mFOLFIRINOX, those having the classic signature were two-thirds less likely to die than were those having the basal-like signature.

“The RNA signature and GATA6 seem to discriminate two prognostic groups in advanced pancreas cancer. The basal-like cohort, or GATA6-low, may be particularly resistant to mFOLFIRINOX,” Dr. Knox said. “GATA6, and perhaps other markers, need to be validated as predictive biomarkers so that we can discover and use more effective therapies earlier on for our patients.

“COMPASS provides a very rich discovery set for other hypotheses and collaborators,” she said, noting that the investigators are adding trial data to the Enhanced Pancreatic Cancer Profiling for Individualized Care (EPPIC) project and to the Accelerate Research in Genomic Oncology (ARGO) project of the International Cancer Genome Consortium.

Rationally based treatment decisions

The COMPASS trial “will show us ... how we should move forward,” said invited discussant Heinz-Josef Lenz, MD, associate director for adult oncology and coleader of the Gastrointestinal Cancers Program, USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles. “We don’t necessarily have the answer today to what the best treatment options are, but this is the first step to understand and develop rationally based treatment decisions for these molecularly characterized groups,” he said.

Dr. Heinz-Josef Lenz is the coleader of the gastrointestinal cancers program, University of Southern California Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles Susan London/MDedge

Dr. Heinz-Josef Lenz

Whole-genome sequencing has been critically important for finding mutations in single genes, the proverbial needles in the haystack, he maintained. But in the future, the emphasis will likely be on combinations of mutations and other alterations.


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