The deletion variant of the ADRA2B gene and the genetic predisposition to focus on the negative

October 17, 2013

October 17, 2013 – This morning, while commuting (a one and a half hour train ride) not only was I noticing all those stoned and negatively charged early morning faces of my fellow commuters but also I stumbled upon the following fantastic little article on PsyBlog, which explains it all. And yes, I am definitively not a carrier of the deletion variant of ADRA2B. I just imagined how a homozygote individual (i.e. ADRA2Bdel / ADRA2B del) would possibly cope with the world early in the morning. Go on reading the article below (in italics):

Some people are genetically predisposed to spot negative events automatically, according to a new study published in Psychological Science (Todd et al., 2013). A gene called ADRA2B seems to cause people to take particular note of negative emotional events. The study’s lead author, Professor Rebecca Todd explained:

“This is the first study to find that this genetic variation can significantly affect how people see and experience the world. The findings suggest people experience emotional aspects of the world partly through gene-coloured glasses — and that biological variations at the genetic level can play a significant role in individual differences in perception.”

The study used a phenomenon called ‘attentional blink‘ and involved participants looking at a series of positive, negative and neutral emotional words. Those who had the ADRA2b gene variant were more likely to perceive the negative emotional words than those without it. 

Positive emotion words, though, were perceived by those with and without the gene to the same degree.

Of course, we all need to spot very strong emotional stimuli around us–like a loved one in pain or anger and aggression in others–but paying too much attention to negative events can obviously make us unhappy. Not only is the gene linked to differences between people in their attention, but also to memory. People with the gene likely also find negative events are enhanced in their memories.

It may mean that people with the gene are more likely to suffer from uncomfortable flashbacks to negative memories or even posttraumatic stress disorder. Statistically, around 50% of Caucasians have the ADRA2Bdel gene variant, but the rates are much lower in other ethnicities.

As with many genes, though, they interact with the environment: their effect on our individual psychology is partly determined by our upbringing, those around us and how we choose to think and act. Just because there is a gene that influences our starting point, that doesn’t stop us having some control over where we end up.


Can We Identify Risk for Drug Toxicity?

October 10, 2013

October 10, 2013 – Very recently, David Kerr, Professor of Cancer Medicine at University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom, and past President of the European Society for Medical Oncology, talked on Medscape (see the video here) about risk-benefit analyses for novel, inventive cancer treatments. See here in italics his statement:

 When we talk about precision medicine and personalized medicine, it occurs to me that most of the discussion has been about benefits and seeing what we can do to better understand the cancer and the molecular biology of the tumor. Through that understanding, we would try to come up with biomarkers that allow us to select patient populations that are likely to receive added benefit.

 As Francis Collins has said, those of us who are in the cancer field are probably standard-bearers for the whole broad field of personalized medicine because of the steps that we have made in terms of linking molecular genotypes to phenotypes and identifying the people who respond better to drugs.

 However, a risk-benefit ratio implies 2 sides of the coin. It seems to me that perhaps we have been missing out in terms of considering the toxicology, the pattern of side effects. These will be determined not by the somatic tumor mutations that we use to identify biomarkers for benefit, but within the germline. How do we metabolize the drug? How do we excrete it? The absorption, distribution, and metabolism components become important. I believe that one way of improving the risk-benefit ratio is to reduce risk. If we had tools, if we had assays, if we had biomarkers to identify patients most at risk for toxicity, most at risk perhaps even for lethal toxicity, then we as an oncology community would adapt our therapy accordingly, possibly even omitting some drugs if the hazard ratio for death or lethality were very high, but more likely modulating the dose of the drug to see if we could obviate the need for inducing life-threatening grade 4 toxicities.

 There is an interesting play here. If we look at most modern, well-designed, phase 3 cancer treatment trials, sometimes including a couple of thousand patients, we are starting to get the statistics that may allow us to do some genome-wide association studies looking for patterns of genetic change in the germline — not in the tumor, but the germline. That may give us an idea about which patients are most at risk for certain adverse effects and tell us, as practicing physicians, to adjust the dose accordingly.

 It is a new science. I am going to call it tox-nostics. There you are. You have heard it here first. I am going to trademark the term. We need to do more concerted research to see if we can improve risk-benefit, but through the portal of reducing risk rather than focusing only on benefit. I think modern, well-designed trials in which germline DNA — ie, blood — has been collected, gives us a way of doing this.

 We know that some tests out there are moderately well used for 5-FU, for irinotecan.[1] I think we can improve on these. I think we can improve test performance, utility, availability. We just need a few clinical champions, a few good tests, to really make the difference.

 Thanks for listening. As always, we will be very happy to take any comments that you may care to make or to post. Medscapers, ahoy! Thank you.

 This is a very notable statement, not only for Medscapers. I would like to comment it on two accounts. First, I am not so sure whether the world has waited for the new term “tox-nostics” and whether a “trade marking” of it will be necessary and would successfully serve its purpose, namely to promote the concepts of targeted efficacy and safety of patient’s therapies. For one, “tox-“ (or any mentioning of toxicity) in the field of drug development and marketing is very negatively looked at and basically considered a “non do”.  Extensive and start-up company terminating (TheraSTrat AG to be precise (you may still search the net for it)) past experience of the author of this Blog would indicate that neither the phamaceutical industry, nor investors and financial markets, nor regulators and patients would like to hear anything near to toxicity in connection with their product and/or therapy.  On the other hand, we (and others), in the early years of the last decade, have coined the term “theragenomics” to embrace the concept of targeted efficacy and safety of patient’s therapies by applying genomic and individualized genetic knowledge to drug therapy.

 Secondly, on a far more positive note, the recently FDA-approved anti-melanoma drug Zelboraf (Vemurafinib) would be one of several good example in case for Prof. Kerr’s proposal/statement. Zelboraf (Vemurafinib) is a kinase inhibitor indicated for the treatment of patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma with BRAF V600E mutation as detected by an FDA-approved companion genetic test. Zelboraf (Vemurafinib) is not indicated for treatment of patients with wild-type BRAF melanoma. That means in the clear that before treatment, patients need to be tested for this mutation (i.e. allelic variant of the tumor BRAF gene) by a companion gene test. Only those patients who test positive for the BRAF V600E variant are eligible for and will profit from a  treatment with Zelboraf (Vemurafinib).

 In the “Warnings and Precautions”-section of Zelboraf’s FDA-approved drug label, the following potential serious, if not fatal, adverse effects of Zelboraf are listed: New Primary Cutaneous Malignancies; New Non-Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma; Other Malignancies; Tumor Promotion in BRAF Wild-Type Melanoma; Serious Hypersensitivity Reactions; Severe Dermatologic Reactions, including Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN); QT Prolongation; Hepatotoxicity; Photosensitivity; Serious Ophthalmologic Reactions; Embryo-Fetal Toxicity. Here (at FDA) and here (at DailyMed), you will find the drug label on Zelboraf (Vemurafinib).

 The other listed severe drug effects not withstanding, at least for “Severe Dermatologic Reactions, including Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN)” we know from many other drug which are associated with this adverse effect, that there seems to exist a genetic predisposition of patients to develop SJS and TEN. For example, patients carrying the HLA-B*5701 allele have a very high risk for developing SJS and TEN when treated with Ziagen (Abacavir). Likewise, patients carrying the HLA-B*1501 allele have a very high risk for developing SJS and TEN when treated with Carbamazepine-containing medications such as Tegretol, Equetro, Carbatrol, and generics thereof. For more information on SJS and TEN, you might want to consult the link here to get started.

 Here, with Zelboraf (Vemurafinib) it might be worthwhile to see, if one the HLA-alleles already associated with SJS or TEN also dispose individuals treated with Zelboraf (Vemurafinib) to SJS or TEN or if in this case, genome wide analysis (GWA) would be necessary to identify new (HLA) alleles predisposing according patients to SJS or TEN. In any case, using such procedures, clinicians might in already today be in the position to provide highly effective targeted therapies combined with targeted avoidance of severe, treatments limiting and/or fatal drug toxicities to at least some patients, all of which would be in line with Prof. Kerr’s statement.


Dabrafenib [Tafinalar] and Trametinib [Mekinist] Approved for BRAF V600 Mutated Metastatic Melanoma

May 30, 2013

May 30, 2013 – From a Medscape News Release we learn today that two new drugs have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in certain patients with metastatic or unresectable melanoma, along with a diagnostic test to identify patients who are suitable for treatment.

The new products, Dabrafenib [Tafinalar] and Trametinib [Mekinist], were both developed by GlaxoSmithKline. Both are orally available tablets, but they have slightly different mechanisms of action.

Dabrafenib [Tafinalar]  acts as a BRAF inhibitor and is approved for use in patients with melanoma whose tumors express the BRAF V600E gene mutation. It is seen as being a next-generation product but is in the same class as the first BRAF inhibitor to reach the market, Vemurafenib [Zelboraf] (Genentech).

Trametinib [Mekinist] has a related but slightly different mechanism and acts as a mitogen-activated, extracellular signal-regulated kinase inhibitor (MEK inhibitor). It is the first drug in this class to be approved and is indicated for use in patients with whose tumors express the BRAF V600E or V600K gene mutations.

Approximately half of melanomas arising in the skin have a BRAF gene mutation, the FDA notes in its approval notice. Alongside the new drugs, the agency also approved a genetic test, the THxID BRAF test, a companion diagnostic developed in collaboration with bioMérieux that will help determine wither a patient’s melanoma cells have the V600E or V600K mutation in the BRAF gene.

Melanoma is the leading cause of death from skin disease, the FDA adds. The National Cancer Institute estimates 76,690 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma and 9480 will die from the disease in 2013.

Clinical Trial Data

Dabrafenib [Tafinalar]  was approved on the basis of data from the BREAK 3 study, conducted in 250 patients with previously untreated BRAF V600 mutation–positive metastatic melanoma. It showed that in such patients, Dabrafenib [Tafinalar]  significantly improved the median progression-free survival compared with chemotherapy with dacarbazine (5.1 vs 2.7 months; P < .0001). These results were published in July 2012 issue of the Lancet (2012;380:358-365).

The FDA notes that the most serious adverse effects reported in patients receiving Dabrafenib [Tafinalar] included an increased risk for cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, fevers that may be complicated by hypotension, severe rigors, dehydration, kidney failure, and increased blood sugar levels requiring changes in diabetes medication or the need to start medicines to control diabetes.

The most common adverse effects reported in patients receiving Dabrafenib [Tafinalar]  included hyperkeratosis, headache, fever, joint pain, noncancerous skin tumors, hair loss, and hand–foot syndrome.

The pivotal study for Trametinib [Mekinist], the METRIC study, was a little different in that it was conducted in 322 patients who had already tried a prior regimen of chemotherapy. In this study, compared with chemotherapy, Trametinib [Mekinist] significantly improved progression-free survival as well as overall survival. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The FDA notes that the most serious adverse effects reported in patients receiving Trametinib [Mekinist]  included heart failure, lung inflammation, skin infections, and loss of vision. Common adverse effects included rash, diarrhea, tissue swelling (peripheral edema), and skin breakouts that resemble acne.

The agency also noted that women of childbearing years should be advised that Dabrafenib [Tafinalar]  and Trametinib [Mekinist]  carry the potential to cause fetal harm. Men and women should also be advised that both drugs also carry the potential to cause infertility.

Being Investigated in Combination

Dabrafenib [Tafinalar]  and Trametinib [Mekinist]  have been approved for use as monotherapy, and not as a combination treatment, the FDA has emphasized. However, there is a lot of interest from clinicians in using both drugs together, and indeed the manufacturer is conducting a clinical trial with the combination.

Preliminary results from a clinical trial with the combination suggest that use of the 2 drugs together resulted in less toxicity, and specifically in fewer secondary skin cancers, than has been seen with  Vemurafenib [Zelboraf]  used alone.

GlaxoSmithKline is now conducting a phase 3 study (known as COMBI-AD) of the combination of Dabrafenib [Tafinalar]  and Trametinib [Mekinist]  in patients with BRAF V600 melanoma that has been completely removed by surgery. Such patients are at high risk for relapse, and the combination of drugs is being tested to see whether it can delay or prevent the recurrence of melanoma, the company noted.

Problem: Responses Are Short-lived

The new Dabrafenib [Tafinalar]  appears to be similar to the already-marketed Vemurafenib [Zelboraf], but there are important differences between the 2 BRAF inhibitors in their toxicity profiles, noted Kim Margolin, MD, from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in Washington..

Skin toxicities, particularly the emergence of low-grade squamous cancers and keratoacanthomas, which occurred in a substantial number of patients taking Vemurafenib [Zelboraf], appear to be quite unusual with Dabrafenib [Tafinalar], Dr. Margolin noted. However, a systemic “pyrexia reaction,” which is almost never seen with Vemurafenib [Zelboraf], has been seen in a substantial percentage of patients taking Dabrafenib [Tafinalar]. “We don’t know yet about the off-target mechanisms of these differences and how much may be due to the vehicle or the formulation for each of these oral agents,” she added.

However, the biggest problem with the BRAF inhibitors in the treatment of melanoma has been the lack of durable response: These drugs “tend to work for an average of 5 to 6 months,” Dr. Margolin noted. What to do when patients fail on these drugs remains a challenge, she added.

Ultimately, combination therapy with a BRAF inhibitor (such as Vemurafenib [Zelboraf]  or Dabrafenib [Tafinalar]) plus a MEK inhibitor (such as Trametinib [Mekinist]) is “likely to be most valuable for improved and lasting results,” according to Dr. Margolin. Firstclinical results along these lines have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine at the end of last year.


FDA Approves Companion Genetic Diagnostic Test for Erlotinib [Tarceva] in NSCLC

May 16, 2013

May 14, 2013 – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced the approval of the cobas EGFR Mutation Test, a companion diagnostic for the cancer drug Erlotinib (Tarceva). This is the first FDA-approved companion diagnostic that can detect epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene mutations, which are present in approximately 10% of non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs).

The approval of this test comes at the same time as an expanded indication for Erlotinib (Tarceva). The FDA has also announced a labeling change for Erlotinib (Tarceva), and the drug is now indicated for first-line use in patients with metastasized NSCLC that tests positive for EGRF mutations. Until now, the official indication was second- or third-line use in advanced NSCLC.

“The approval of the cobas EGFR Mutation Test will allow physicians to identify non-small cell lung cancer patients who are candidates for receiving Erlotinib (Tarceva) as first-line therapy,” said Alberto Gutierrez, PhD, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a statement. “Companion diagnostics play an important role in determining which therapies are the safest and most effective for a particular patient.”

The safety and effectiveness of the cobas EGFR Mutation Test was established with clinical data showing progression-free survival in NSCLC patients with specific types of EGFR mutations (exon 19 deletions or exon 21 L858R substitution mutations) for 10.4 months when they received Erlotinib (Tarceva) treatment, compared with 5.4 months for those who received standard therapy.

In the United States, Erlotinib (Tarceva) is currently the only drug available for use in EGFR-positive NSCLC, although elsewhere in the world, another similar drug is widely used: Gefitinib (Iressa). A third drug in this class of EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), Afatinib (Tomtovok, by Boehringer Ingelheim), is close to approval, with an FDA decision expected in July 2013. Afatinib will also have its own companion diagnostic test (Therascreen EGFR PCR Kit, from Qiagen).

Using an EGFR TKI in the first-line treatment of EGFR-mutated NSCLC is recommended by several clinical guidelines, including the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Patient outcomes are significantly better when compared with chemotherapy, so much so that it “would be a tragedy not to use” an EGFR inhibitor in EGFR-positive patients, according to one expert in the field, Edward Kim, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and director of clinical operations at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston. To not know whether the tumor is mutation-positive is not acceptable anymore, he added.

However, testing for mutations is not yet routine, and there are difficulties with obtaining lung cancer samples of sufficient size and quality, as well as disagreement over which is the best method for obtaining such samples, as recently reported by Medscape Medical News. In addition, there are issues with the costs of such testing, as outlined in a comment from a surgeon is response to that article.

The cobas EGFR Mutation Test is manufactured by the Roche Molecular Systems. Erlotinib is comarketed by California-based Genentech, a member of the Roche Group and OSI Pharmaceuticals.


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