Emma Shtivelman, PhD Cancer Commons Chief Scientist

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    Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors: A Lesser Threat than Adenocarcinomas, but Still Hard to Treat

    Emma Shtivelman, PhD

    Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) constitute only about 3% to 5% of all pancreatic cancers. Compared to the most common pancreatic cancer—adenocarcinoma (aka exocrine tumors), PNETs have a longer disease course and better prognosis; the 5-year survival rate is 42% for PNETs, but only about 5% to 6% for adenocarcinomas. When PNETs are localized, they can usually be removed by surgery. However, PNETs tend to metastasize, most often to the liver, and present a formidable treatment challenge at this stage.

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    What Determines Whether a Melanoma Patient Will Respond to Checkpoint Blockade Drugs?

    Emma Shtivelman, PhD

    Of all cancer types, melanoma is the most investigated in terms of its potential to be treated through immune system-based approaches. More immunotherapy drugs are approved for melanoma than for any other type of cancer, and more are in development. Recent additions to the immunotherapy arsenal are the ‘anti-PD-1’ immune checkpoint blockade drugs pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo).

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    Lung NETs and Their Treatment

    Emma Shtivelman, PhD

    Cancers that arise in the lung are mostly of the type known as NSCLC (non-small cell lung carcinoma). A much smaller proportion of lung tumors arise from neuroendocrine cells in the lungs. These cells (which are also found in most other organs) secrete a variety of hormones that are necessary for normal organ function, as well as for healing after injury or infection. Like other lung cells, neuroendocrine cells may transform to become cancers. Lung cancers that arise from neuroendocrine cells are called pulmonary neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), or lung NETs.

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    Hormone-Mimicking Drugs Are Used To Treat Gastroenteropancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (GEP-NETs)

    Emma Shtivelman, PhD

    Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) can arise wherever neuroendocrine (hormone-producing) cells are found—which is in most organs. Most NETs (65%-70%) are gastroenteropancreatic, or GEP, arising in different gastrointestinal organs. GEP-NETs are most commonly found in the small bowel (including the appendix), stomach, and rectum. Still, NETs in general are rare, which complicates the development of new treatments and identification of the genetic drivers of these cancers. Treatment of GEP-NETs is clearly an unmet medical need, and is now even more urgent because their incidence has been on the rise in the last 20 years.

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    ASCO 2015: Notable Reports on Prostate Cancer Treatment

    Emma Shtivelman, PhD

    This year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting was short on any truly exciting developments in prostate cancer treatment. In stark contrast to other cancers, such as lung, breast, kidney, and melanoma, there were no reports of note on targeted and immunotherapies in prostate cancer. The two presentations summarized here offered new strategies in chemotherapy.

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    ASCO Highlight: Another Treatment Option for ER-Positive Breast Cancer

    Emma Shtivelman, PhD

    Earlier this year, a new treatment option was added to the arsenal for ER-positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the combination of letrozole (Femara) and palbociclib (Ibrance).

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    Melanoma at ASCO 2015: Immunotherapy Continues to Make Headlines

    Emma Shtivelman, PhD

    The biggest news in melanoma treatment from the 2015 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting was undoubtedly the report from a large, phase III, randomized clinical trial that compared a combination of two ‘checkpoint inhibitor’ drugs—nivolumab (Opdivo) and ipilimumab (Yervoy)—with the same drugs given alone. In the CheckMate-067 trial, 945 previously untreated patients with unresectable stage III or IV melanoma were assigned… Read more »

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    Small Cell Lung Cancer at ASCO: Some Welcome News

    Emma Shtivelman, PhD

    Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is a fatal disease that has not seen new drug approvals for the last 17 years. Considering the relative success of ‘immune checkpoint inhibitors’ in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), it is not surprising that several abstracts recently presented at the 2015 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting were devoted to clinical trials testing these trendy, immune… Read more »

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    ‘Immune Checkpoint’ Drugs Show New Promise for Treating Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

    Emma Shtivelman, PhD

    It has become routine practice to prescribe targeted drugs to patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), whose tumors harbor molecular alterations in EGFR, ALK, and ROS. However, the majority of patients with NSCLC have no targetable mutations and lack good treatment options. Enter immunotherapy drugs, specifically ‘immune checkpoint blockade antibodies,’ to which many refer simply as ‘anti-PD-1 drugs,’ or simply ‘PD-1 drugs.’… Read more »

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    Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Melanoma: New Directions

    Emma Shtivelman, PhD

    The drugs pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014 and 2015, respectively. These two competing blockbuster drugs are already changing the outlook in metastatic melanoma, previously considered to be a fatal disease. Known as ‘immune checkpoint inhibitors,’ they work by releasing ‘brakes’ on a patient’s own immune system, freeing it to attack tumors. In the wake of their success, researchers are now taking immune checkpoint inhibition in new directions.