Background: Histone deacetylases (HDACs) are crucial components of the oestrogen receptor (ER) transcriptional complex. Preclinically, HDAC inhibitors can reverse tamoxifen/aromatase inhibitor resistance in hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. This concept was examined in a phase II combination trial with correlative end points.
Methods: Patients with ER-positive metastatic breast cancer progressing on endocrine therapy were treated with 400 mg of vorinostat daily for 3 of 4 weeks and 20 mg tamoxifen daily, continuously. Histone acetylation and HDAC2 expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells were also evaluated.
Results: In all, 43 patients (median age 56 years (31-71)) were treated, 25 (58%) received prior adjuvant tamoxifen, 29 (67%) failed one prior chemotherapy regimen, 42 (98%) progressed after one, and 23 (54%) after two aromatase inhibitors. The objective response rate by Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumours criteria was 19% and the clinical benefit rate (response or stable disease >24 weeks) was 40%. The median response duration was 10.3 months (confidence interval: 8.1-12.4). Histone hyperacetylation and higher baseline HDAC2 levels correlated with response.
Conclusion: The combination of vorinostat and tamoxifen is well tolerated and exhibits encouraging activity in reversing hormone resistance. Correlative studies suggest that HDAC2 expression is a predictive marker and histone hyperacetylation is a useful pharmacodynamic marker for the efficacy of this combination.