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BREAST CANCER

Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer worldwide, with an estimated 2.1 million new cases diagnosed per year (World Health Organization). In Europe, an estimated 523,000 new cases are diagnosed (World Health Organization) and approximately 138,000 women will die of the disease each year (World Health Organization), making it the leading cause of cancer death in women (World Health Organization). In the U.S., an estimated 269,000 new cases are diagnosed and approximately 41,000 women will die of the disease each year, making it the second-leading cause of cancer death in women (American Cancer Society). Estimated breast cancer incidence and deaths per year in Europe, the U.S. and worldwide are shown in the following table.

The prognosis for women with locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer ("LA/MBC") remains poor; the 5-year survival rate for metastatic disease is about 22% (American Cancer Society), making this an area of continued, high unmet medical need. Therefore, treatment that balances efficacy, tolerability and quality of life is preferred.

Breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease comprised of several molecular subtypes, which are commonly grouped into clinical subtypes based on receptor status (Perou et al., Nature 2000;406:747-752). Receptors that are assessed in standard clinical practice include the estrogen receptor (“ER”) and progesterone receptor (“PgR”), collectively the hormone receptors (“HR”), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (“HER2”). Breast cancers generally are categorized by the presence or absence of these receptors. The most common type of breast cancer is HER2 negative and HR positive, accounting for approximately 64% of newly diagnosed cases (Howlader et al., Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2014;106(5):1-8). HER2 positive breast cancer and triple-negative breast cancer (“TNBC”), the latter of which lacks all three receptors, are less common, accounting for approximately 13% and 11% of breast cancers, respectively (Howlader et al., Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2014;106(5):1-8). Estimated U.S. breast cancer incidence by receptor status and MBC treatments by receptor status are shown in the following figure.

 

Treatment of HER2 Negative, HR Positive LA/MBC

HER2 negative, HR positive disease, which represents the majority of all LA/MBC cases, remains an area of high unmet medical need. Over the past two decades, only modest survival benefits have been achieved in this patient population; hence, treatment goals emphasize controlling disease-related symptoms, minimizing toxicity and maximizing quality-of-life. Patients with HER2 negative, HR positive disease are typically treated with endocrine therapy (with or without a cyclin-dependent kinase [“CDK”] 4/6 inhibitor), chemotherapy or both.

Endocrine Therapy

Endocrine agents, which target certain hormone receptors inside and on the surface of tumor cells with the goal of slowing tumor growth, are preferred as initial treatment prior to chemotherapy for most patients with HER2 negative, HR positive MBC (National Comprehensive Cancer Network 2017). These agents, which typically are used sequentially, include aromatase inhibitors (e.g., anastrozole, exemestane and letrozole), selective estrogen receptor modulators (e.g., tamoxifen) and estrogen receptor downregulators (e.g., fulvestrant). As initial therapy in post-menopausal women with HER2 negative, ER positive disease, letrozole plus the recently approved CDK 4/6 inhibitor, palbociclib, resulted in median progression-free survival (“PFS”) of 24.8 months, compared to 14.5 months with letrozole alone (Finn et al., New England Journal of Medicine 2016;375(20):1925-1936). As second-line endocrine therapy in women with HER2 negative, HR positive disease, fulvestrant plus palbociclib resulted in median PFS of 9.5 months, compared to 4.6 months with fulvestrant alone (Cristofanilli et al., The Lancet 2016;17(4):425-439). However, despite these recent advances in endocrine therapy, virtually all patients will eventually progress and require subsequent treatment with chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy

In HER2 negative, HR positive LA/MBC, chemotherapy generally is used following disease progression on endocrine therapy or in women for whom endocrine therapy is not indicated. While endocrine therapy is most often the first-line treatment for women with HER2 negative, HR positive LA/MBC, a significant percentage of women receive chemotherapy as their first treatment for advanced disease. In a recent analysis of a large patient record database (n=1,272-1,640 in Europe and n=2,225-2,760 in the U.S.), chemotherapy-only regimens were given as the first therapy following a diagnosis of advanced disease 33% to 35% of the time in Europe and 34% to 42% of the time in the U.S. (Caldeira et al., Oncology and Therapy 2016;4:189-197). This suggests that a significant percentage of women are not indicated for endocrine therapy in the advanced setting due to: (i) a short relapse-free interval while on adjuvant endocrine therapy (endocrine resistance); (ii) rapidly progressing disease/visceral crisis; or (iii) endocrine intolerance.


There are several approved chemotherapy agents for the treatment of HER2 negative LA/MBC. These include: paclitaxel, nab-paclitaxel and docetaxel (taxanes); capecitabine (a fluoropyrimidine); doxorubicin and epirubicin (anthracyclines); gemcitabine (a nucleoside inhibitor); ixabepilone (an epothilone approved in the U.S.); and eribulin (a non-taxane microtubule dynamics inhibitor). The taxanes and eribulin are approved as monotherapy; capecitabine is approved as both monotherapy and combination therapy (with docetaxel); gemcitabine is approved as combination therapy only (with paclitaxel); and ixabepilone is approved in the U.S. as both monotherapy and combination therapy (with capecitabine).


The choice and sequencing of chemotherapy regimens depend on a number of factors, including physician preference, previous therapies, pre-existing medical conditions, tumor burden and patient symptoms. As shown in the following chart, taxanes are the preferred first-line chemotherapy agents in HER2 negative, HR positive MBC.

Recent survey of 201 U.S. community-based oncologists

Taxanes

Taxanes are an established class of anticancer agents that are broadly used in various cancers, including breast cancer. Taxanes destroy cancer cells by preventing them from entering mitosis, a process of cell division, and thereby leading to apoptosis, or cell death. As shown in the figure below, taxanes are one of the most widely used classes of chemotherapy agents in both Europe and the U.S., with more than 2.8 million cycles administered in 2016 (Symphony Health Solutions 2016; IMS Health 2016).

While paclitaxel and docetaxel, the first two taxanes approved for the treatment of breast cancer, possess robust antitumor activity, they have low oral bioavailability and low solubility. Therefore, these pharmaceutical agents must be delivered intravenously, typically at an infusion center, and also are formulated with solubilizing agents that are known to cause hypersensitivity reactions. Nab-paclitaxel, a different formulation of paclitaxel that also is approved for the treatment of breast cancer, has a greatly reduced risk of hypersensitivity reactions, but must still be delivered intravenously.

 

Therapies given intravenously at an infusion center often are associated withᵃ:

  • Fear of needles and complications associated with venous access;  

  • Anxiety, including institutional-triggered side effects such as nausea and vomiting; 

  • Heightened awareness of life-threatening disease presence; and 

  • Disruption of daily activities.

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