PURPOSE: Non-small-cell lung cancers harboring EML4-ALK rearrangements are sensitive to crizotinib. However, despite initial response, most patients will eventually relapse, and monitoring EML4-ALK rearrangements over the course of treatment may help identify these patients. However, challenges associated with serial tumor biopsies have highlighted the need for blood-based assays for the monitoring of biomarkers. Platelets can sequester RNA released by tumor cells and are thus an attractive source for the non-invasive assessment of biomarkers.
METHODS: EML4-ALK rearrangements were analyzed by RT-PCR in platelets and plasma isolated from blood obtained from 77 patients with non-small-cell lung cancer, 38 of whom had EML4-ALK-rearranged tumors. In a subset of 29 patients with EML4-ALK-rearranged tumors who were treated with crizotinib, EML4-ALK rearrangements in platelets were correlated with progression-free and overall survival.
RESULTS: RT-PCR demonstrated 65% sensitivity and 100% specificity for the detection of EML4-ALK rearrangements in platelets. In the subset of 29 patients treated with crizotinib, progression-free survival was 3.7 months for patients with EML4-ALK+ platelets and 16 months for those with EML4-ALK- platelets (hazard ratio, 3.5; P = 0.02). Monitoring of EML4-ALK rearrangements in the platelets of one patient over a period of 30 months revealed crizotinib resistance two months prior to radiographic disease progression.
CONCLUSIONS: Platelets are a valuable source for the non-invasive detection of EML4-ALK rearrangements and may prove useful for predicting and monitoring outcome to crizotinib, thereby improving clinical decisions based on radiographic imaging alone.