Conference Coverage

Biomarker testing gains momentum in NSCLC



Despite Spain’s lack of a national project or standard protocol for biomarker testing, more than half of patients diagnosed with stage 4 non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) are tested for biomarkers, according to a Spanish national registry study reported at the 2022 European Lung Cancer Congress.

“In recent years we’ve developed drugs that target biomarkers, so it’s important to identify those biomarkers to guide treatment and have an impact on the survival of our patients,” said lead author Virginia Calvo, MD, a medical oncologist with the Puerta de Hierro Majadahonda University Hospital, Madrid.

“If we don’t know our patients’ biomarkers, we can’t treat them with targeted therapies,” she added, noting that the overall survival of lung cancer patients has increased by 15% in the last 10 years, largely because of better therapies such as targeted drugs for advanced stage disease and immunotherapies.

To assess the status of biomarker testing in Spain, Dr. Calvo and colleagues analyzed data from the country’s Thoracic Tumor Registry on 9,239 patients diagnosed with metastatic NSCLC from 2016 to the present, 7,467 (81%) with nonsquamous tumors and 1,772 (19%) with squamous tumors.

They found that 85% of patients with nonsquamous NSCLC and about 53% of those with squamous cancers had undergone biomarker testing. They discovered that 4,115 (44%) of patients tested positive for EGFR, ALK, KRAS, BRAF, ROS1, or PD-L1.

Dr. Calvo attributes the widespread use of biomarker testing and its significant increase in the last 5 years to the growing knowledge and understanding of the disease.

“We are learning more about NSCLC, and I think in the next few years the number of biomarkers are going to grow,” she said.

The study’s findings also highlight the importance of establishing and maintaining cancer registries, Dr. Calvo said, noting that 182 hospitals across Spain and more than 550 experts participate in the Thoracic Tumors Registry, which includes data on patients from every Spanish territory.

“It’s important to collect information on real-life cancer care so that we know what our real situation is and take steps to improve it,” she said.

She anticipates that treatment for NSCLC patients will become increasingly complex in the future with the growing number of different biomarkers and the proportion of patients who test positive for them. “We may need to establish national strategies to implement next generation sequencing so that we can identify different biomarkers and improve the survival of our patients.”

In a press release, Rolf Stahel, MD, president of the European Thoracic Oncology Platform, said that it would be helpful to look at how frequently molecular testing led to patients receiving appropriate targeted treatment.

In the United States, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends biomarker testing for eligible patients with newly diagnosed stage 4 NSCLC, and it can be considered for patients with squamous histology because 5%-10% of these tumors have targetable mutations. “This is because numerous lines of evidence show that patients with stage 4 NSCLC and a targetable mutation, typically have improved overall survival when treated with a targeted therapy,” wrote the authors of the NCCN recommendations.

“For newly diagnosed stage 4 NSCLC, there is always a tension between the need to start therapy versus waiting for molecular results. This is because if a recommended targeted option is identified, it is the optimal first-line therapy. Targeted therapy cannot be given to everyone. Different biomarkers predict response to different agents. This has been well illustrated and it makes testing critically important for patients with NSCLC,” Dara Aisner, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology with the University of Colorado at Denver, Aurora, wrote in the NCCN guideline.

The study presented at ELCC was funded by a grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program. Dr. Calvo has received fees from Roche, Bristol-Myers Squibb, MSD and AstraZeneca.

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