Tumors with large numbers of prostate cancer cells with mutations in DNA repair genes (e.g. BRCA1 and 2) are easier to target using prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) therapies, and patients with these tumors are more likely to respond to this potential treatment’s use, a study found and published in European Urology.
PSMA is a membrane protein often found at very high levels on the surface of prostate cancer cells, especially among those forming castration (hormone)-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) tumors, an aggressive form of the disease that no longer responds to hormone therapy.
For that reason, PSMA has become a promising target of researchers working to develop a new class of medications that combine an anti-PSMA antibody with a radioactive moiety. Such medications, like lutetium (Lu)177-PSMA, use the anti-PSMA antibody to specifically spot and deliver the radioactive lutetium-177 conjugate to prostate cancer cells which produce PSMA in large amounts.
But this type of targeted radiation therapy does not work for all patients, and the rates of those failing to respond have amounted to about 30% in studies. Between 30% to 60% of patients with metastatic CRPC (mCRPC) treated with these therapies, however, have reported reductions of more than 50% in PSA levels (a biomarker of prostate cancer).
Prior studies used antibodies that target the intracellular (not the surface) part of PSMA, which has no clinical value for estimating PSMA levels. A team of investigators at the Institute of Cancer Research in London set out to characterize the levels of PSMA found specifically on the surface of prostate cancer cells — called membranous PSMA (mPMSA) — in a group of men with mCRPC. Because mutations in DNA repair genes lead to a high genetic variability within a single tumor, researchers also examined if these mutations affect PSMA levels and could be used to guide PSMA-directed therapies.
The study involved two groups of patients: a test group of 60 patients who provided mCRPC tissue samples, including 38 people with matched, castration (hormone)-sensitive prostate cancer (CSPC) diagnostic samples; and a confirmation group of 10 patients whose tumors contained a high number of mutations in DNA repair genes.
Despite the high degree of variability in membranous PSMA levels evident among different patients and even between samples obtained from the same patient, high levels of mPSMA at diagnosis generally associated with greater cancer aggressiveness (based on the Gleason score) and poorer patient survival.
In addition, researchers found that membranous PSMA (mPSMA) levels tended to be higher in metastatic hormone-resistant prostate cancer samples compared to hormone-sensitive samples, or samples from patients whose tumors respond to hormone therapies.
Investigators also found that mPSMA levels were more than four times higher in tumors containing numerous mutations in DNA repair genes, compared to those with no mutations. These findings were confirmed in the second group of study patients.
Testing for DNA repair defects was a good indication of which tumors had high levels of PSMA — and so would be expected to respond to these PSMA-targeted therapies like lutetium-177-PSMA. Identifying patients with DNA repair mutations could be useful in design of clinical trials to identify likely responders to PSMA treatments. (I was recently informed that genetic testing for DNA repair mutations is commercially available from the company Invitae.)
For additional details see the Aug. 22 Prostate Cancer News Today.