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Jan 27, 2022

Guest host, Dr. Muhammad Shaalan Beg, director for Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology at UT Southwestern's Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and Dr. Manisha Palta, radiation oncologist at the Duke University Health System in North Carolina and chair of the 2022 ASCO Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium, discuss key advances in GI oncology featured at #GI22.



Dr. Shaalan Beg: I'm Shaalan Beg. I'm the director for GI Medical Oncology at UT Southwestern's Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. And I'm the guest host for the ASCO Daily News podcast. Today we'll be discussing key advances in GI oncology featured at the 2022 ASCO Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers Symposium. And I'm delighted to welcome Dr. Manisha Palta, the chair of this year's GI meeting. Dr. Palta is an associate professor and radiation oncologist at Duke University Health in North Carolina. Dr. Palta, thank you for joining the podcast today.

Dr. Manisha Palta: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Shaalan Beg: Before we begin, I should mention that my guest and I have no conflicts of interest related to our topics today. Our disclosures are available in the show notes and the disclosures for all episodes of the podcast can be found in the show transcripts at

Manisha, congratulations on bringing together many diverse voices from across the country and internationally to showcase some incredible advances in GI cancer. It's been a big year. I felt that the GI space was falling behind in 2021, and it looks like we've made a lot of progress. Can you tell us about some of the practice changing studies that were featured this year?

Dr. Manisha Palta: Yeah, absolutely. So, I definitely think the pandemic slowed things down from a research perspective, but this year we heard some really exciting data. And the sessions that I'd highlight in particular is the hepatobiliary pancreas oral abstracts. So, we heard a number of practice changing studies, one of which is Abstract 379, the HIMALAYA study. This was a phase 3 multi-center study looking at tremelimumab and durvalumab as first-line therapy in unresectable HCC, and was comparing that regimen to the standard of care, sorafenib.

In addition to the data for HCC, also presented at this year's meeting in the oral session was Abstract 378, which was the TOPAZ-1 study looking at the systemic therapy regimen of gemcitabine and cisplatin with and without durvalumab as first-line therapy in patients with advanced biliary tract cancers. So, what we're starting to see here is the theme of immunotherapy being incorporated into first-line therapy through these abstracts that were presented.

The other particularly interesting abstract in that oral session is a little bit different. Not so much systemic therapy related, but a little bit more focused on the integration of systemic therapy with local regional therapy. And that's Abstract 380, which is lenvatinib combined with TACE as first-line therapy for advanced HCC. And this was a phase 3 multi-center randomized control trial, looking at the incorporation of a local regional therapy with an approved standard systemic therapy as well.

So those were the abstracts that I thought were particularly interesting and practice changing in the hepatobiliary pancreas sessions, or the pancreas and hepatobiliary day. However, I also think I would be remiss to not mention another abstract in the first day, the upper GI or esophageal gastric day. Also in the oral session, Abstract 238, which was a randomized control phase 3 trial evaluating 2 chemotherapy regimens and chemotherapy radiation in the neoadjuvant treatment of locally advanced esophagus cancer. And this is the JCOG 1109 NExT study. I think it's a really interesting area, a very exciting area of exactly how we should be managing these patients with localized esophageal gastric cancer. Whether that should be a systemic therapy approach, a chemotherapy radiation approach, or perhaps an integration of both. So those are definitely the key abstracts and practice changing data that were presented at this year's meeting.

Dr. Shaalan Beg: Definitely an exciting last couple of years for liver tumors. We saw the approval of atezolizumab and bevacizumab for frontline HCC. There were some concerns about potential toxicities around bleeding and the need for screening endoscopy prior to starting systemic treatments. And one would like to think that the result of the HIMALAYA study, which are looking at combining 2 immune therapy agents together, would have a lower risk of bleeding and maybe a less burdensome way to start systemic treatment for our patients. And gone are the days when we only had one oral kinase inhibitor for our patients. So, very exciting.

So, when you think about local regional treatments for GI cancers, a lot of the oral presentations and the key takeaways were around systemic treatment options. When you thinks about supportive treatment options, biomarkers, radiation, surgery, are there any abstracts that come to mind that you feel would be ready for prime time when we return to the clinic next week?

Dr. Manisha Palta: So, I think we're starting to see a lot of interesting data emerging with immunotherapy being incorporated earlier into the treatment paradigm. So, what's happened over the last 5 years or so is we're starting to see the use of immunotherapy in the metastatic stage IV setting. And now we're seeing the incorporation and integration of immunotherapy earlier. And so, there's another abstract that was presented in the poster rock session for the esophageal gastric day, looking at the integration of immunotherapy into a chemotherapy radiation backbone for patients who have locally advanced esophagus cancer. And I think we're going to start to see more and more studies incorporating and integrating immunotherapy earlier in the treatment paradigm. So, that would be the thing to look forward to. Is it ready to take to clinic yet? Probably not. But we're on the brink of it I think being incorporated into standard practice.

Dr. Shaalan Beg: Yeah, very well said. And talking about early incorporation of immune therapy for GI cancers, there was a study looking at neoadjuvant IPI+NIVO for MSI high gastric cancer, and they found a pathologic complete response rate of 59%. And at first pass we're like, well, MSI high immune therapy, we already knew that. But if you peel that away a little bit, we're talking about path CRs in people who have a biomarker responding to immune therapy. And I wonder if the next question's going to be whether they can be spared surgery for their gastric cancer.

Dr. Manisha Palta: Absolutely. Especially when we're talking about surgeries that carry and portend really high rates of morbidity and impair quality of life.

Dr. Shaalan Beg: I was interested by a cell-free DNA study from Columbia University, where they reported a very large cohort of GI cancers, think about 30,000 patients cell-free DNA, and found that they're able to identify MSI high microsatellite in stable cancers at a similar proportion as people can identify them with tumor testing. So, remember, these folks with MSI-high disease have very high response rates to immune therapy, like we're seeing in the gastric study. And there was always this concern with cell-free DNA on whether it's as good as tissue testing. And now, this wasn't a paired analysis of tissue and blood in each patient, but overall, they were able to find a similar proportion of MSI-high disease and the different GI cancers. The survival was comparable to what we would expect in that situation. So, I think it's an important next step for cell-free DNA and liquid biomarkers in GI cancer.

Dr. Manisha Palta: Absolutely. And I think that just speaks to the theme of the meeting, which is accelerating access to precision care through innovation. So, if we're able to identify these really important biomarkers from blood, rather than having tissue, I think it just allows us to bring these cutting-edge technologies and therapies to patients. And in many cases, therapies that result in significantly less toxicity compared to standard systemic therapies in particular.

Dr. Shaalan Beg: Absolutely. One of the highlights of the meeting in my opinion, are the wonderful education sessions and our keynote speakers that addressed health equity, advocacy, and even more in line with ASCO's team for this year. What are the key messages that you'd like to highlight before we wrap up the podcast today?

Dr. Manisha Palta: Well, so we had two fantastic keynote speakers this year that were both intended to highlight aspects of the meeting's tagline, accelerating access to precision care through innovation. So, our first speaker, Dr. [K. Robin] Yabroff, spoke about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on equity in access to care. I think we often talk about disparities in care, disparities in outcome, but we don't often focus on access. And I think the pandemic has allowed us some opportunities to change how we practice medicine through things like telehealth. And I think these are long lasting effects that will have an impact on cancer care, even after the pandemic becomes less burdensome on our lives.

The second keynote speaker was Dr. Theodore Goldstein. He talked about health care technology and how we can use precision care through innovation. What I liked about his talk is that he thinks about cancer and cancer treatment more like a software problem, given his background, and talks about the ways that we can use healthcare innovation to optimize cancer care for patients.

So, one thing I'd like to highlight this year was the fact that we had a new educational feature of "episodes" of cancer care. And what we wanted to do this year is we wanted to highlight topics that permeated all of the GI cancers, regardless of site, from upper GI to lower GI. And the first session on Thursday was a series of talks that were focused on the emerging roles of ctDNA on GI cancers.

But the second 2 days, Friday and Saturday, were case-based discussions. The first one focusing on broadening access to cancer drugs and the right trials for the right patients. And through case presentations, they talked about how drugs go through the FDA approval process, how sometimes there may be FDA approval and then a change in FDA approval based on additional data, what types of data we may need to actually implement certain new therapies into our standard of care regimens.

And then the last session, which was really interesting to me, was the tailoring of systemic and local regional therapies in oligometastatic patients. So, I think this is a really interesting topic. I loved the fact that it was a case-based discussion with multiple panelists from different specialties, talking about the role of local regional therapies in particular, in the treatment of oligometastatic disease.

Dr. Shaalan Beg: Definitely a really exciting time in GI oncology. Thank you Dr. Palta for sharing your insight with us today and thank you for your leadership.

Dr. Manisha Palta: Thank you very much.

Dr. Shaalan Beg: And thank you to our listeners for your time today. You'll find links to the abstracts discussed on this episode in the transcript. And finally, if you'd like to see what we're up to on the ASCO Daily News podcast, please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe whenever you get to your podcast. Thank you very much.



Dr. Shaalan Beg:

Consulting or Advisory Role: Ipsen, Array BioPharma, AstraZeneca/MedImmune, Cancer Commons, Legend Biotech, Foundation Medicine

Research Funding (institution): Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca/MedImmune, Merck Serono, Five Prime Therapeutics, MedImmune, Genentech, Immunesensor, Tolero Pharmaceuticals

Dr. Manisha Palta:

Employment: Duke University

Honoraria: Oakstone

Consulting or Advisory Role: Syntactx and VoxelMetrix

Research Funding (institution): Merck, Varian Medical Systems, Galera Therapeutics

Patents, Royalties, Other Intellectual Property: Up to Date- Annual royalties for being a section author



The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. This is not a substitute for professional medical care and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions. Guests on this podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement.